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Friday, January 18 Texas News

West Texas plastic surgeon part of family of physicians

ODESSA, Texas (AP) — The deeper you get into the medical profession, says Dr. Matthew Brian Furst, the more apparent it becomes that it is a life like no other.

The Odessa American reports the rewards are supreme and the stresses excruciating and you mustn't be too enamored of the former or caught up in the latter, says Furst, the latest in a line of physicians dating to the 19th century.

"It's a club you don't understand until you get into it," he said. "Everybody has their ghosts in medicine and you either learn to deal with it or you will go nuts. I think you just store it. It's similar to the soldiers and first responders who have post-traumatic stress from the horrible things they see.

"A physician may come off as being gruff or aloof, but it may be because of what he went through yesterday."

Away from his plastic surgery practice, the 58-year-old Odessa native doesn't see himself as being different from anyone else. "I'm a pretty basic West Texas-born and raised kind of person, not too flashy or flamboyant," he said.

"Just because I happened to choose a different career path doesn't make me any smarter or better than you. I'm a regular guy. I like West Texas. It's hard to get it to grow on people, but I don't think most people give it a chance."

Furst graduated in 1978 from Permian High School, where he met his wife Suzette, and earned a biology degree at North Texas State before enrolling at the Texas Tech School of Medicine in Lubbock. He did residencies in general surgery at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and plastic surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The Fursts have three daughters and a grandchild.

His father William was a pediatrician who died last May at age 93 and his great-grandfather was William Rush Dunton (1868-1966) a Baltimore psychiatrist who is considered the founder of occupational therapy. Furst is a former head of surgery and chief of the medical staff at Medical Center Hospital.

"Dad was from Baltimore and he had a person he'd trained with from West Texas who got him out here," he said. "I always wanted to be a doctor. I spent a lot of time with him growing up, going to his office and the emergency room. One of my brothers is a dentist and the other an anesthesiologist and one of my two sisters is a dietitian.

"My father was a great all-around physician who had a work ethic you don't see nowadays. It was not just his understanding of medicine, he was a master of the art of medicine. He had a true empathy and deep caring within him. He would get a sick baby and live at the hospital till the baby was better. People respond to that."

Furst said American medicine has evolved with 75-80 percent of doctors now working for hospitals or clinics and being less involved. "Private practice is basically ending," he said.

"The family doctor is not the one who takes care of you all the way through. It's becoming less of a profession and more of a job. Physicians work a set number of hours and move on."

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The private practitioner got interested in surgery after his first year at Tech, working with Odessa cardio-thoracic surgeon Connie Hutton, though subsequent experience taught him plastic surgery was his true interest. "In the beginning you're almost overwhelmed by all the information people are throwing at you," Furst said.

"It's almost all science, but as you get older you appreciate the human element and interaction and your view changes."

Noting that it's called plastic surgery from the Greek word "plastikos," meaning to mold or form, he said his work was mostly reconstructive in the beginning, restoring people to normal after accidents like hand injuries; but it has become 60 percent cosmetic with a specialty in breast restorations, enlargements and reductions.

"Plastic surgery is operating on the skin and its contents," Furst said. "There's not another branch of surgery as broad with so many opportunities to do different things. You can work on almost every part of the body from cranial and facial to the chest and abdomen.

"Reconstructive is to go from abnormal back to normal while cosmetic is to make somebody better than normal. I love breast surgery. I do a ton of breast surgeries. I wouldn't be the person to fix your nose. I haven't done any rhinoplasties since my residency."

Furst does three to five surgeries each Monday and Thursday, having cut Fridays from his previous schedule. "It's physically demanding," he said.

"Stand on that side of the table and stand there for the next five hours. At the end of it, you're tired. A lot of surgeons have bad necks."

Furst said his specialty is much older than you might guess, dating to the Middle Ages when thieves' noses would be cut off in the Mideast and they'd go to Europe to have their faces sewn to their upper arms for three weeks.

"A lot of it came out of World War I from the facial injuries in trench warfare," he said. "Oral surgeons in England reconstructed soldiers' faces and modern plastic surgery came out of that.

"Most of my patients are not sick and in general they are not dying. I don't have to tell a family their mother, brother or sister is dead. The trauma guys do nothing but trauma all day long. I have a lot of respect for them."

Furst credits his wife, a former elementary schoolteacher, for letting his career come first and for keeping him from giving up at Creighton. "I did a neurosurgery rotation for a month that almost killed me physically and emotionally," he said.

"I was at the hospital 48 hours at a time and thought I wasn't going to make it. A big hospital doesn't stop. It just goes and goes. But Suzette said, 'Go back and give it one more day.' I made it through that month and got a rotation in endoscopies. I was home every day at 5 and got to eat and it smoothed out."

Kevin Slater has known Furst since Permian and they have had children in school and vacationed together. "Odessa is lucky to have somebody with Matt's credentials, knowledge and drive to continue learning and continue his practice," said Slater, president of Slater Controls.

"I don't think you could find a plastic surgeon or surgeon with his qualifications in Dallas or Houston who would be willing to get up in the middle of the night and help somebody. His dad was a neat guy, too. It was not just a career path for them, it was their life.

"Matt is one of us. He rides a bike, drives a pickup and considers himself a good old boy."

Former longtime Ector County Hospital District Board member Judy Hayes also attended Permian with the Fursts. "Matt makes a really good impression and is a good and caring doctor," the insurance woman said.

"He has a clear understanding of what he does and makes sure he and his patients are on the same page. Family is important to him and he is well-respected in the medical community. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy when it comes to the practice of medicine, not only for himself but others. He walks to his own drum but is a team player."

Furst said it's important for a doctor to have a hobby as a stress-reliever. He has had several, including backpacking and hunting coyotes, bobcats, dove and quail.

These days it is photography and he takes his Nikons to Monahans Sandhills State Park and the I-20 Wildlife Preserve and Jenna Welch Nature Study Center south of Midland. He fly-fishes near Las Vegas, New Mexico, and has "shot" elk and bear in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

"I love the outdoors, but I don't enjoy hunting anymore," he said. "I get enough badness and carnage in my day-to-day life. When I'm taking pictures, I don't think about anything else."

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Information from: Odessa American, http://www.oaoa.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Odessa American

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