Dr. Theodis Buggs of Princeton Baptist believes medicine is about serving patients.
Theodis Buggs, MD, readily recalls his father’s horrific accident at the now-defunct Republic Steel in Gadsden. “He was a switchman,” says the Princeton Baptist orthopedic surgeon. A defective brake wheel broke and threw the railroad man off balance. “He fell under the train,” the son says. “It took both legs.”
His father had quit school in 10th grade to work. His mother left college to take care of her father, who had suffered a stroke. Yet the couple instilled in their children the value of education.
Buggs attended Clark Atlanta University, the first in his family to graduate. He dreamed of a life in medicine, but in his junior year, that image soured when cancer took his beloved grandmother.
“I lost the spirit of wanting to be a physician,” he says. Instead, the Gadsden native became a successful businessman. “I had a lot of money and was having fun, but I was missing something.”
Then his father’s accident occurred. “While he was in the hospital, I saw doctors working with him…and the fire started again.” With his desire to be a doctor rekindled, he cold-called the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s medical admissions dean. “He said, ‘Go take these courses. Make A’s,’” Buggs says.
His colleagues were incredulous when he quit his job in Atlanta. “You shouldn’t be doing this,” they argued. He was undeterred. “I had to turn loose of one rope to try to reach another,” he says. “It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
He finished at the University of Alabama Medical School in 1980, followed by an orthopedic surgery residency at UAB, completed in 1985. Next he did an orthopedic trauma fellowship at UAB in 1986. He joined the general orthopedic surgery practice of Hamilton Holmes, MD, in Atlanta from 1986 to 1987.
After that, Baptist Princeton recruited him to return to Birmingham. He’s been there since. “I try to develop relationships with my patients,” he says. “To me, a patient is not just a broken ankle or wrist or a hip replacement. They know that I care. When I do a hip procedure or whatever, it’s like I’m doing it on a relative or friend.”
He could live elsewhere but says, “I owe this city a lot. I owe UAB a lot.” And he repays a lot by volunteering his time. Among his service contributions: vice president of both the Alabama Medical Association and the Jefferson County Medical Association; past president of the University of Alabama Medical Alumni Association; board member of the YMCA, Mountain Brook branch; board member, M-Power, an organization that supports the uninsured in the Avondale community; and member of the Statewide Health Coordinating Council Committee, appointed by Governor Robert Bentley.
Besides selfless service, Buggs is well known for his surgical skill and is one of only a few Birmingham surgeons to offer anterior hip replacements. “I’m going to do one on a patient coming from Spain in about a month,” he says.
At first, becoming an orthopedic expert was not a given. “When I went to medical school, I was going to do internal medicine or primary care,” he says. His only previous reference point was his family’s general practitioner physician. Orthopedics was not a consideration and, frankly, he says, “I was apprehensive about dealing with bones. But you know the old adage about facing your fears? I took a course in orthopedics and just fell in love with it.”
Although it didn’t occur to him until later, “Looking back, I think I kind of related orthopedics with my father.” The elder Buggs was treated by orthopedic surgeons after his injury.
Facing fears is something his father taught him well. “He came up with all kinds of inventions to do things without his legs - contraptions to take things to the roof, cutting the grass with a push mower,” Buggs says. “He never asked for a handicap sticker or anything. He always said that he was not disabled.”
Now Buggs recognizes his journey to medicine stemmed from these events:
that terrible day when his father lost his limbs; the indelible impression of caring physicians helping him; and his father’s refusal to let his injury limit him.
“Through God and those steps of my father getting injured, that kind of put me back on the path to what I wanted to do,” Buggs says.