The SURFING SURGEON
Dr. Drew Brown IV enjoys his busy spine surgery practice at the Orthopedic and Spine Institute at St. Lucie Medical Center. He enjoys the outdoors, exercise and surfing outside of the long hours seeing patients and in the operating room.
BY GREG GARDNER | PHOTO BY GREG GARDNER
Big wave surfing and performing spine surgery are the two great passions of Drew Brown IV – he craves the mental discipline they both require.
“It is high stakes with high rewards and you need the same serenity and calm in the arts of surfing and surgery,” says Brown, who moved his practice to Florida Orthopaedic Specialists at St. Lucie Medical Center last year after spending the past 10 years in Hawaii. “It (surfing in Hawaii) is a hierarchical sport. There is a pecking order. You wait your turn. Surfing is dangerous and you learn what it takes to be accepted as part of the crew.”
While he is a peaceful guy, Brown, at 6 feet, 4 inches and 230 pounds, is certainly a big man looming in any surf lineup. He played basketball for the University of Texas for two years.
“In medicine, it is a lifelong journey,” Brown says. “It also has a hierarchy. You gain experience and you move up. Just as the ocean is extremely humbling, so is medicine. You think you have conquered one aspect and two obstacles arise. The ocean shows you how little you know. The human body and the ocean never stop.”
Like doing a high-wire act without a net, Brown has always surfed without a leash, which means you have to be good. Swimming in to get your board in big surf can be deadly.
The obvious and common question is, “Why did you leave Hawaii?” Brown says it was a career move and he saw this area as underserved for spine surgeries. He considered Denver, Colo. and Austin, Texas, but the nearby Atlantic Ocean made Port St. Lucie look pretty good. “I have to be near the water. I wanted to expand my practice and get busy right away,” he says. “Hawaii is a wonderful place. I miss it dearly. Hawaii lives within me. It will always be home, but Hawaii is not going anywhere.”
Packing up and moving was easy for Brown. Born in Texas to a Navy A-6 Intruder pilot, Brown moved around the country until he settled in Memphis, Tenn., for his junior and senior high school years. Born in Harlem, N.Y., Dr. Brown’s father at one time was the only black fighter pilot in the ranks of Navy carrier fighter pilots, with the call sign “Dark Gable.” Today, Drew Brown III is a motivational speaker with audiences from children to corporate executives and author of the best-selling book You Gotta Believe.
For 26 years, Dr. Brown’s grandfather, Drew Bundini Brown Jr., trained both Sugar Ray Robinson and Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali. In the movie Ali, Drew Brown Jr. was played by Jamie Foxx.
“I was always a science buff,” Dr. Brown says. “I liked biology. I wanted to specialize in neurosurgery, but I found it too tedious. I was sports-oriented, so I decided on orthopaedic surgery.” After completing medical school, Brown received an additional eight years of training in Hawaii and California. He has made nine presentations to his peers on knee and spine surgeries, among other topics, and considers himself a “techie.”
Just about every day, Dr. Brown wakes up at 4:30 a.m. and works out or watches sports highlights before heading to St. Lucie Medical Center. He is usually home around 7 p.m., but sometimes it might be 8:30 or even 11. He hasn’t had a full day off in five or six weeks. “You leave when the work is done,” he says. “It is what we do. It honestly doesn’t feel like work. The work is the paperwork. My life revolves around the hospital.”
Dr. Brown likes to get out and paddle around even if the surf is flat. He has discovered the bigger waves up coast in Sebastian and Melbourne. “Southeast Florida is the only part of the (U.S.) mainland that looks a little like Hawaii,” he says. “People here are honest, open and nice. I like the people, the town, and the (medical) practice.”
In what spare time he has left, Brown hosts a health-oriented website with tips on fasting, diet, nutrition and exercise. The site, www.db4000.com, also has links to other articles on health issues.
Jurate Duffy frequently collaborates with Brown in the treatment of everything from broken bones to infections. “He is always available and approachable for patients,” says Dr. Duffy, a hospitalist specializing in internal medicine. “People are healing because he knows what he is doing.”
“It is an intimate relationship with the patient,” Dr. Brown says. “Seeing patients is like an extended family that you build. They allow me to open them and manipulate their tissues to correct a structural defect.”
DOCTORS OF INTEREST - #1
Name: Dr. Drew J. Brown
Family: Single, girlfriend
Education: B.S. Biology, University of Texas, Austin; Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston; orthopaedic, surgical internship, research fellowship and orthopaedic residency, University of Hawaii, Honolulu; Spine Fellowship, San Diego Center For Spinal Disorders, La Jolla, CA
Occupation: Orthopaedic surgeon
Hobbies: Surfing, scuba diving, herpetology/entomology, basketball, weight training, cooking and yoga
What I like most about practicing medicine: “I really love that medicine affords me the possibility and opportunity to create positive change in someone else’s life through a collaborative effort.”
What most people don’t know about me: “Most people don’t know how much I really like cartoons. Most of my iTunes collection is Disney, DreamWorks and Pixar movies that I watch most nights before falling asleep. Plus, I usually dream in cartoons.”