ST. MARYS, Georgia: October 26, 2020 – Between politics and a global pandemic, people have no shortage of polarizing topics to debate. Whether you’re a republican or democrat, pro- or anti-mask, or just trying to survive these difficult times, Damon W. Brantley, M.D., believes that two things can bring people together: a common enemy or a common goal. As a surgeon, that goal is patient care, and Brantley’s pursuit of better health stems from his medical expertise, strong community ties and love of music.
Fixing Problems with Surgical Precision
Before becoming a general surgeon at Southeast Georgia Physician Associates-General Surgery, and Chief, Department of Surgery, Southeast Georgia Health System Camden Campus, Brantley grew up from humble beginnings in Chicago, Illinois. A second generation college student and first generation doctor in his family, he was always fascinated by the human body. Coupled with his love for children, he strove to become a pediatrician until he discovered his true passion during medical training: surgery.
“I love fixing problems and the closure that surgery and interventional medicine provides,” says Brantley. “Originally, I considered being a heart surgeon, but I felt limited. Heart surgeons perform two to three procedures on the same organ over and over again. I love general surgery because I treat the entire body. The other day, I removed a back tumor, operated on a gallbladder, fixed two hernias, removed someone’s colon cancer, and removed another person’s breast cancer. All in one day!”
He adds, “I treat teenagers, young people, retirees, active duty military, and athletes in addition to all types of illnesses and injures. The field might not be flashy, but really, the depth and breadth of medicine is encompassed in general surgery. Basically, I’m a primary care doc who operates.”
Prior to joining the Health System, Brantley owned private practices in both Tennessee and Alabama. Working for a hospital was a huge career shift, and after ten years with the Health System, he couldn’t be happier with his decision.
“So much of my time was dedicated to managing my practice: paying taxes, paying rent, managing schedules, hiring cleaning companies, and worrying about overhead costs. There’s only so much time in a day and, by far, I would prefer to spend my time where I can make a difference: with patients,” says Brantley. “Now, I spend so much more time with patients, talking them through a difficult diagnosis, preparing them for what to expect during and after surgery, discussing their concerns related to coronavirus, and answering all of their questions to ensure they’re informed about their health. I’m so thankful and blessed for the opportunity to make a real difference in this community.”
Growing Roots in the Community
When Brantley was initially recruited to join the Health System, he came to “do good surgery and make sure patients have the best outcomes possible.” Since his arrival, his duties and experience has expanded beyond surgery and patient care to areas of leadership and community outreach.
“My experience as Chief of Surgery has been tremendous. I’ve had the opportunity to lead our physicians through times of growth and change: the affordable healthcare act, hurricanes, and now, a global pandemic. It’s been amazing to watch our team come together during these challenges.”
But his tenure has not been all doom and gloom. Thanks to generous community contributions to the Georgia HEART hospital program, the Camden Campus was able to build a new Wound Care Center and purchase 3D Mammography. Georgia is the only state in the nation which affords its residents with the opportunity to redirect their state tax dollars to local hospitals who qualify. After two years of participating in the program, the Camden Campus has both increased their service lines and upgraded their technology.
Their new Wound Care Center was an initiative that Brantley supported for several years and “couldn’t be more excited to see it come to fruition.” The Center offers comprehensive wound care, including hyperbaric oxygen treatment, which boosts the body’s natural healing properties and stimulates the growth of new blood vessels and tissue.
“The innovative treatments available at the Camden Campus hospital are truly amazing for a community our size,” says Brantley. “Although we don’t perform every surgery, the surgeries that we do perform, we do as well as anyone in a large city hospital.”
Of all the surgeries and treatments he provides, Brantley is especially proud of the Camden Campus Breast Cancer Center. Patients have access to 3D Mammography, the most effective screening method for breast cancer. 3D scans are more accurate than 2D alone, detecting 20 to 65 percent more invasive breast cancers. A 3D mammogram can also be especially helpful in detecting cancer in women with dense breasts—defined as breasts made up of more glandular and fibrous connective tissues than fatty tissues—but women of all ages and breast densities still benefit from 3D mammography accuracy. And if cancer is found, patients can expect a collaborative effort between the general surgeon, oncologist, radiologist, and plastic surgeon for a comprehensive, seamless treatment plan.
“Truly, the collaborative team effort we have is commendable,” say Brantley. “I believe it stems from commitment: the hospital is committed to investing in technology and team members are committed to learning new procedures. It’s hard to believe that we exist in cozy St. Marys, but our Breast Care Center rivals that of big city medicine, which means we offer the best of both worlds: top-notch care in a tight-knit, community setting.”
Brantley is accustomed to bumping into patients while at church and the grocery store because his patients are his family, friends and neighbors. In this way, “the community sees me as an extension of their family and close friends,” says Brantley. “And in return, I treat them with the same care and dedication I would give to my own family.”
The Melody of Healing
During a year fraught with uncertainty and division, Brantley’s passion for music has helped to ground him and his team. He operates to music, typically Christian rock bands such as Casting Crowns and Skillet, to keep a positive energy and inspire connection among his surgical team. And recently, his team has introduced him to the music of country singer, Luke Combs.
“Most people know that I love music, but for me, it’s more than just sound. Music brings people together,” says Brantley. “On the surface, it might not seem like Luke Combs and I would have too much in common, but the emotion that music evokes and the relatability of his lyrics connects us. He sings about love, disappointment, breakups, and the fury of a hurricane (as a literal storm and a metaphorical relationship), and everyone, no matter their roots, can relate to that.”
Brantley adds, “This year has been especially challenging for everyone: providers, patients, leadership, and the community. And it’s up to us to rise to the occasion. When my team arrives at work, we leave personal feelings and issues at the door, and come together to focus on the patient on our operating table. We live in turbulent times, but as the outside world changes for better or for worse, the excellent care we provide remains the same. For me, music is grounding and connecting, and it plays a helping hand in achieving that objectivity.”
In addition to being a surgeon and music enthusiast, Brantley is also a family man. Cynthia Brantley, his wife of thirty years, is a math teacher at the local high school, and together they have two beautiful daughters—Jasmine, 28, and Jordan, 26—a grandpup, Thalla, and a grandkitty, Tiny. And Brantley loves babysitting. He also enjoys scuba diving and takes full advantage of Diver’s Den in St. Marys.
“Over the years, raising my family and growing roots in this community is everything that I had hoped it would be and more,” says Brantley. “After all the years I spent moving state to state throughout my time in the military and while earning my degree, I finally found a home. I’m here to stay.”
Brantley adds, “My next goal is to pass the legacy of this hospital onto the next generation. I’ve witnessed other hospitals close. I’ve seen doctors come and go. It’s so important for those of us who are experienced to be dedicated mentors and pass on the torch. If I can leave the Health System and community in good hands, stronger than when I arrived, that will be the pride of my career.”