It all started in 1980 with a stroke of serendipity on South Tatar Street.
Bill Stanley, a businessman in Pasadena, Texas, had recently founded Ventech Engineers, Inc., an engineering construction business that designed modular oil refineries and shipped them to destinations around the globe. A few doors down, Thomas J. Murphy, MD, opened his medical practice as a solo primary care physician.
One day, Bill could not shake a tenacious headache and decided to visit the doctor next door in search of relief. Although his headache was a simple fix for Murphy, Bill had no idea just how important this doctor would become to him and his family.
Since that meeting almost four decades ago, Bill grew his business to over 1,000 employees while he and his wife, Alvern, nurtured five children and eight grandchildren. Murphy, who joined
McGovern Medical School at UTHealth in 2011, stood beside the Stanleys for every milestone, runny nose, broken bone, and medical emergency.
“Over the years, I’ve become so confident in Dr. Murphy’s abilities as our primary care physician,” says Bill, who now serves on the UTHealth Development Board. “He gets to the root of each issue and coordinates with specialists across UTHealth who deliver the same excellent care he does.”
As the Stanley family has grown and matured, Murphy has made countless routine diagnoses and treated a myriad of common health issues, but he has also prompted life-changing interventions.
The heart of the issue
Bill vividly recalls the panic that gripped him during a weekend in New York City in 2014.
“I was struggling to breathe, and I immediately scheduled an appointment with Dr. Murphy for the moment my plane touched down in Houston,” says Bill. “By the time I saw him, I was certain my lungs were failing.”
But he was wrong. After a quick evaluation, Murphy discovered that Bill had aortic valve stenosis—a narrowing of the main artery that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body—and he needed surgery immediately. Murphy coordinated with UTHealth cardiologist, David D. McPherson, MD, to repair Bill’s aortic valve.
“There are hundreds of conditions that can cause shortness of breath, and it is impossible for a patient to diagnose him or herself,” explains Murphy. “My role is to diagnose exactly what’s wrong with my patients and coordinate with specialists to get them the care they need when they need it.”
More than four years after his successful heart operation, Bill attributes his continued exuberance to Murphy’s collaboration with McPherson. “Dr. Murphy will put Dr. McPherson on speakerphone during our appointments to make sure I understand what’s going on,” says Bill. “They give me the confidence that I’m in the most capable hands.”
A dire intervention
Murphy also transformed the outcome for Bill’s son Scot after he suffered a stroke early one morning. Paramedics rushed Scot to a local emergency room, where doctors struggled to diagnosis the stroke and deliver timely treatment. Without neurologists specialized in stroke recovery and care, the local hospital doctors told the Stanley family that Scot would not make a full recovery from the cognitive challenges and physical weakness caused by the stroke. Bill called Murphy, urgently seeking advice and hope for his son.
Murphy immediately devised a plan of action, transferring Scot from the local hospital emergency room to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, where he was placed under the care of UTHealth neurologist Louise D. McCullough, MD, PhD. McCullough gave Scot a different prognosis.
“We can fix it,” she told him. “You’ll have to make lifestyle changes, but you will lead a normal life.” Scot received individualized care from McCullough’s team to optimize medical therapy to limit the damage caused by the stroke and preserve brain tissue.
Murphy’s intervention changed Scot’s future and delivered the answers the Stanley family so desperately sought. “By intervening, we were able to coordinate the appropriate care at the right time at the right place,” says Murphy.
An opportunity to give back
In December 2017, Bill felt it was his turn to give back, and he made a generous $2 million commitment to establish the Stanley Family Distinguished Chair of Population Health and Community Medicine—McGovern Medical School’s first chair in population health.
“Dr. Murphy has done so much for me and my family, and I want to reciprocate for the commitment and care he shows each day,” says Bill. “I know he will use these resources to serve more people the way he has served my family.”
Decades have passed since Bill first wandered into Murphy’s office, and South Tatar Street was renamed long ago, but the roots connecting the Stanleys and Murphy have only grown deeper.
Health is primary
Vaccinations. Antibiotics. Food safety. Advances in public health in the 20th century have added 25 years to the life expectancy of United States citizens. Primary care physicians such as Murphy are at the forefront of public health initiatives, addressing how to best care for populations.
As Chief Medical Officer for UT Physicians Community Clinics, Murphy examines the social determinants that can restrict a population’s access to medical care. He has championed population health initiatives by ensuring UT Physicians clinics have social workers, community health workers, health care attorneys, and nurse case managers to help patients navigate the health care system and to open access to underserved populations.
Additionally, first-year students at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth are required to shadow primary care physicians in clinic to cultivate interest in this field. Commonly, students at medical schools are not exposed to the primary care field until their third year when they may have already decided to pursue a career in a medical specialty.
The Stanley Family Distinguished Chair of Population Health and Community Medicine will help Murphy and McGovern Medical School address the social determinants of medical care by championing innovative public health initiatives and training future leaders in the primary care field.
The US faces a projected shortage of primary care physicians ranging from 7,300 to 43,100 physicians by 2030—mainly due to population growth and aging.