Release Date: 6/15/2011
Father's Day - medical style - for three physician families
Dr. Brian Peterson, Dr. Bryan Burns and Dr. Salim Hawatmeh are celebrating a reunion of sorts this year. Each of them recently joined his dads medical practice and the medical staff of St. Anthonys Medical Center.
Fathers and sons – no other relationship is so dramatically defined by friction and friendship, competition and camaraderie, rivalry and respect. This Father’s Day, three local sons are celebrating the fathers who left them a heritage they couldn’t refuse – the practice of medicine.
Nearly a quarter-century ago, the three young boys attended St. Clement’s Parochial School in Des Peres. They played soccer, went swimming and celebrated special occasions with their combined families. All of their dads were physicians.
Those three boys – Dr. Brian Peterson, Dr. Bryan Burns and Dr. Salim Hawatmeh – all joined their dads’ medical practices and the medical staff of St. Anthony’s Medical Center.
Brian Peterson, M.D., 38, joined his dad, Gary Peterson, M.D., in his medical practice as a vascular surgeon. “Dad’s my partner and my boss,” Brian said. “That’s what brought me back to St. Louis, after completing my fellowship at Northwestern University in Chicago – the opportunity to be close to my family and to work with my dad.”
Brian, who now lives in Webster Groves with his wife, Jill, and their two children, said his dad never pressured – or even encouraged – him to go into medicine. But he remembers going with his dad to the anatomy lab at St. Louis University when he was in grade school. “I vividly remember him teaching residents how to sew blood vessels together and put the clamps on,” he said.
“I remember one night we were going to have dinner at a restaurant on the Hill, and my dad had to stop and see one of his patients first. The man had had his leg amputated, and his sons were in the front yard, building a wheelchair ramp. When the man saw my dad, his face lit up – there was so much respect! He’s a big man – I have big shoes to fill.”
Not so big, his dad insists. “Brian did it all on his own – it was what he wanted and I’m very pleased with what he’s done,” Gary Peterson said. “Sometimes we work on the same cases, and he teaches me a few things. He’s learned the latest techniques, which he’s brought here to St. Anthony’s, and he’s very good at what he does. He is a shining star in vascular surgery.”
Gary, who lives in Des Peres with his wife, Patty, said he and his son work well together in practice and in surgery because they are more alike than different. “We resemble each other in looks and in temperament,” Gary said, then added with a grin, “But he’s smarter than I am – and he can play golf and I can’t!”
Bryan Burns, D.O., internal medicine specialist, said it’s only logical that he and his dad, Edward, would choose the same profession, since they are so similar in temperament and personality. “I think I kind of always knew I wanted to be a physician,” Bryan said. “Growing up around it, I understood the lifestyle of taking care of patients, and internal medicine sounded like the right place for me.”
Bryan, 31, lives in St. Louis Hills and has two children; his father and mother, Patti, live in south county. Bryan joined his father’s medical group, but only after Edward had left the year before to start the Palliative Medicine Service at St. Anthony’s. “I wanted Bryan to have a fresh start,” said Edward Burns, M.D. “Did I influence his career choice? I never thought so, but both of my sons are doctors now, so I’m not sure.
“I think you just hope your kids will find what brings them happiness. They watched us work a lot of hours – this is a terrible job if you’re not enjoying it. But, I figured if this is what he wants to do, I would encourage him. “I’m proud of him, of course; but I would be proud no matter what. My daughter is a graphic artist, and I’m proud of her too. But it is neat to connect in what we do and share our experiences.”
Bryan agreed. “If I have questions or need advice, dad is there,” he said. “We talk shop and bounce ideas off each other. Dad is honorable, knowledgeable and caring. He’s a good role model, not only for me, but for other physicians.”
Salim Hawatmeh, M.D., completed his training at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., then followed his dad, Abraham Hawatmeh, M.D., into the field of urology – but not with his dad’s encouragement. “I tried to talk him into orthopedics – I owned the St. Louis Ambush soccer team at the time, and I thought I’d make him a star with the soccer program!” Abe said. The elder Hawatmeh, who lives in west county with his wife, Rita, admits that “deep, deep down inside, I was very happy with his choice. This is a very fulfilling career field, and Salim is a very good surgeon.”
Abe recalls a particularly poignant moment, when he found himself working alongside all three of the “St. Clements’ boys” on a patient with an advanced case of kidney cancer. “It was so incredible – these kids used to hang out at my house, and here we were, all working together on one patient! I felt like the director of the orchestra!”
Salim, who lives in Clayton, said he grew up going to work with his dad – and now he’s doing it again. “Dad has a large, established practice, and the opportunity for me to work with him, learn from him, is amazing,” he said. “My parents always pushed me to achieve academically, and I was fortunate to go to wonderful schools; so I feel I have brought my own ideas and contributions to the practice. The advanced technology in our field, like the da vinci robot, is incredible; and the idea of using your hands to help someone – there’s no feeling like it. My dad says there is an art to surgery; he says it’s like dancing with your hands.”
Abe said that while he is able to offer Salim tips he gained through years of experience, Salim has brought tremendous knowledge to their practice. “There is great respect between us – both ways,” he said. “We fight a lot, because we both have strong personalities; but we both are perfectionists – we want the best for our patients.”
“Dad and I are both hard-working and hard-headed,” Salim said. “Dad is a tough boss, but always fair. I have massive footsteps to fill – I’ll be lucky to ever get there!”
Abe actually has only one complaint about his son. “He’s 38 and not married – I hate that! We want grandchildren, and we are here waiting!” he said.
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