Over 30 years of practice as one of Metter’s most beloved “country doctors” draws to a close as Dr. Gary Branch announces his retirement due to health concerns.
Never one to back down from a challenge, Branch continued to see patients using a wheelchair, determined to do what he loves most, he said. However, cerebellar ataxia is taking its toll, and no longer able to drive, Branch realized it was time to close his practice.
“While the wheelchair was aggravating at times, it allowed me to continue to serve the community and more importantly, my patients,” he said. “It also allowed me to continue to do something that I love.”
Cerebellar ataxia, according to Internet website www.healthline.com, is a “disorder that occurs when the cerebellum becomes inflamed or damaged. The cerebellum is the area of the brain responsible for controlling gait and muscle coordination.”
Branch said his condition is hereditary.
The ataxia began in his 40’s, became worse in his 50’s and eventually affected his ability to drive. That was the reason he decided to retire, he said. “That stopped my practice.”
Could have been a farmer
In his teen years, Branch grew up in Statesboro, graduated from Statesboro High School, and still lives on the south side of town, but in his early years before 7th grade, he lived in Lyons, where he was born and where his father operated a family farm.
He loved the country life, he said. “I would probably have been happy farming if you could make a living.”
But fate had other plans. Branch developed an interest in genetics and biology, and was inspired by family friends and local doctors. By the time he completed his undergraduate degree at Georgia Southern College in 1980, then achieved a graduate degree in genetics and biology, he had what he called an “eureka moment” and realized he wanted to be a doctor – a country doctor.
He graduated from Augusta Medical College in 1985, serving his residency at the Columbus Medical Center. It was during that time he met his wife, Dr. Carla Branch, who practices in Statesboro. They married during his internship, and in 1989, moved to Metter, where he opened his practice.
Branch said he thought he knew what hard work was all about until he opened his new practice.
It was an eye-opener, he said.
“I did everything. For the first 10 years, I covered (Candler County Hospital’s) emergency room day and night.”
Paired with his own practice, Branch soon learned being a “country doctor” could be a 24/7 task,
“I thought I knew how to work, thought I knew the meaning of work, doing 90 to 100 hours a week in residency, until I got to Metter and saw 35 to 40 patients a day in the office, then helped in the ER all night long.”
There were times when he considered change, but his love for Metter and his patients always won.
“I considered moving to Statesboro but I didn’t.” he said. “I loved being a country doctor. We sort of took care of everything. I enjoyed the people and made the most incredible friendships.”
Branch said he wouldn’t do anything differently had he the chance to do it all over.
Being a rural doctor in a family practice where patents are much more than just that has meant the world to him, he said.
That day he woke up with the knowledge that he would be a doctor is never far from his mind. “It just seemed to be the right thing to do. I knew this was what I needed to do.”
It is with some regret that Branch says goodbye to his patients and colleagues, but his outlook remains positive although his health is causing changes.
In a letter submitted to area news outlets, Branch expressed his emotions.
“Especially, I would like to thank my patients.” he wrote. “It is very difficult to leave you. I will miss you greatly. Thank you for your trust, support and friendship. Now, in the tradition of law enforcement, I will simply say that I am CODE 3. I have finished my last shift.”
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.