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Dermatologist, native son returns to rural roots

Published on Monday, April 10, 2017

By: Gary Pettus at 601-815-9266 or gpettus@umc.edu.

Published in News Stories on April 10, 2017

When Sarah Haynes heard the news, it took a literal load off her aching feet: “There's a new doctor coming to town.”

Louisville is Winston County's largest town - about 6,400 residents - and is taken care of by about a dozen or so physicians, but no other exactly like Dr. Adam Byrd, whose debut of a UMMC clinic Wednesday in Louisville drew 14 patients and much attention.

“We're so proud to have a skin doctor now,” Haynes said.

Byrd is a skin, hair and nails doctor - a dermatologist - and already knows Louisville like the back of his comedone extractor: This is his home.

His return - with his wife Elisabeth and their three young children - fills a gap in health care services for residents like Haynes, who will no longer have to eat up an hour or more to see a dermatologist about a skin condition that afflicts her feet.

“It's wonderful,” Haynes said Wednesday, shortly after Byrd took a clipping from her toenails for testing. “I don't have to worry about that drive anymore.”

During the clinic's opening day, Sarah Haynes is one of Byrd's first patients.
During the clinic's opening day, Sarah Haynes is one of Byrd's first patients.

Dr. Sam Suttle, Haynes' family medicine doctor, had referred her to a dermatologist. That's how she found out about the imminent arrival of Byrd, who, as boy, mowed Suttle's lawn.

“It's the Mayberry thing,” said Byrd, 38. “I can walk to my house from work in six minutes.

“I'm in a place where everyone knew my dad - he was a veterinarian for a while and then sold insurance. My grandmother taught school here.

“The other day, the UPS guy knocked on the clinic's door with a delivery, but no one was here. So he took it to my mom's house.”

Attracting a dermatologist to a small town like Louisville, in a county with fewer than 20,000 residents, is a coup. The ratio of dermatologists to the U.S. population will continue to decline, particularly in rural areas, the American Medical Association has reported.

As for Louisvillians, seeing a dermatologist who offers a full range of services for all ages apparently meant - until now - driving to West Point, about 50 miles away, or Columbus, which is pushing 60.

But bringing Byrd back to the red clay hills of this east-central community, where he always wanted to return anyway, was relatively easy.

“We now have nine dermatologists that we have recruited to Jackson,” said Dr. Robert Brodell, professor and chair of the Department of Dermatology at UMMC.

“So, when we had an application from Adam Byrd, instead of recruiting him to Jackson, the thinking was, 'Why don't we put him in a part of the state that needs a dermatologist and happens to be his hometown?'

“One of the missions of UMMC is to serve underserved areas of Mississippi. This is our department's first foray into doing that. It makes sense for all sorts of reasons.

“Having a physician like Adam Byrd anchoring this effort guarantees its success.”

The clinic at 313 N. Court Ave. is the former site of another doctor's office and, more recently, a steel company office.
The clinic at 313 N. Court Ave. is the former site of another doctor's office and, more recently, a steel company office.

Byrd hopes to see up to 35 patients a day, eventually, in the refurbished brick building at 313 N. Court Ave., marked by the blue-and white sign” “UMMC Clinics, Dermatology, Adam Byrd, MD.”

He and his staff - Julie Hunter, RN; and Tabatha Knowles, Certified Medical Assistant - expect to see patients from towns as far as 40 miles away, drawing from Winston and surrounding counties a population numbering more than 100,000.

“I figure I'll be busy,” Byrd said. He will, working 4 ½ days at the UMMC clinic here, as well as a volunteer at a local free clinic, and sharing internal medicine calls for Winston Medical Center, with whom he has a professional relationship.

Within a year, dermatology and primary care residents should be training with him, Byrd said, helping treat the spectrum of cases, such as eczema, psoriasis and skin cancer.

Medicine is not his only job, however. A 2000 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy - located in the other West Point - Byrd still serves in the Medical Corps Branch of the Mississippi Army National Guard as an officer; he was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, 2003-2004, and was honored for his valor.

He's also a jogger, weightlifter, hunter and angler, an outdoors-lover in general who once owned a landscape maintenance business.

“My family still has a cattle farm outside of town. I want to be a farmer one day,” he said.

For now, and for years to come, he's cultivating his medical career, an effort that began in earnest when he was in his late 20s and took pre-med courses at Mississippi State University. He earned his M.D. from the School of Medicine at UMMC in 2011, and finished his combined residency in internal medicine and dermatology in July 2016 at the University of Minnesota.

He was still there when heard about a tragedy back home. “Louisville was on the news in Minneapolis,” he said, “so I knew it was a big deal.”

In Winston County, and beyond, they're still talking, and hurting from, the storm of April 28, 2014 - at least 10 people there died in the EF-4 tornado. More than 600 businesses, churches, homes and were lost, including many belonging to people Byrd knows.

In the three years since, the town has been remarkably resilient. Jobs and businesses have returned, and Winston Medical Center, which took a direct hit, is trading its transitional quarters for a brand-new facility, with open house set for April 28.

This recovery is the consequence of a close-knit community that grew even closer from shared heartbreak, a feeling of kinship that can only be strengthened by the arrival of much-needed clinic opened by a native son, just down the street from the school where his grandmother used to teach.