Gratitude that remained over the years

David Grenon never forgot the Cape Cod doctor who saved his leg after a car accident left him with severe injuries when he was 14 years old. Grenon, who went on to become a successful insurance broker in his hometown area of Worcester, recently demonstrated his gratitude with a $25,000 gift to Cape Cod Hospital in honor and memory of Dr. David Curtis, FACS. He announced the bequest recently at the hospital, with three of Dr. Curtis’s children looking on.

Grenon’s first encounter with Dr. Curtis was after a car ride with his older brother at the wheel and two friends in the back seat, that turned tragic. During the crash, Grenon’s leg was pinned inside the car (acting as a tourniquet of sorts and probably saving his life, he was later told by rescuers).

In the 1950s there was not yet an organized town-by-town emergency medical service, but the accident happened close to the Yarmouth Fire Station and fire personnel quickly responded.

“I remember them hack sawing the car to get me out,” Grenon said.

The young teen was rushed to Cape Cod Hospital, where the emergency room back then was staffed by doctors of different specialties who took turns on call. Emergency medicine only emerged as a specialty in the 1970s, so general doctors, even optometrists, would rotate on 24-hour call shifts, according to Dr. Curtis’s son, Jim. Dr. Curtis was a general surgeon, trained as a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and who had seen serious leg injuries while serving in Korea during World War II. He had honed his war time medical skills in trauma surgery, orthopedic surgery, and vascular surgery. Luckily for Grenon, he was on call for the Emergency Room that day.

Dr. Curtis took the teen into surgery and repaired much of the muscle, cartilage and soft tissue damage but, because of the severity of the injuries, he did not know whether the vascular system would recover enough to save the leg.

Dr. Curtis monitored Grenon’s progress two to three times per day.

“I remember he came in on day one and, no pulse (in the vasculature in the damaged leg), day two, no pulse, and day three, no pulse,” Grenon said. “On day four, I remember him saying, ‘I think I hear something.’”

Grenon spent about two weeks in the hospital, forced to stay very quiet at all times. He had no feeling in the leg for at least four months, he said.

A Search for Dr. Curtis

When he returned to Worcester, he had two or three more surgeries, yet the only doctor’s name he remembers to this day is Dr. Curtis’.

“I came to Cape Cod to visit him seven or eight times. I would take the family car and drive to the Cape,” Grenon said. “The first time I went to the hospital and they told me he was busy, so I waited. Then I told them to tell him David Grenon wanted to see him. I was rather insistent.”

The persistence paid off and Dr. Curtis finally came out of surgery to see his former patient.

“The first thing he says is ‘drop your pants,’” Grenon said. Grenon obliged and Dr. Curtis smiled at how well Grenon’s leg had healed.

“My dad had a very distinctive smile,” said Jim Curtis, an emergency medicine physician in Maine, who grew up on the Cape and has fond memories of his father’s time at CCH.

“Growing up in Osterville, people would say ‘you’re Dr. Curtis’s son, you must want to be a doctor.’”

The message sunk in, he said.

Jim’s brother, Peter, said he had no intention of becoming a doctor, and is now a civil engineer in Loveland, Colorado. His sister, Joan Carleton, is a retired title searcher and lives in South Dennis. Their older brother David Jr., a retired auto mechanic passed away in 2013. Their brother, Fred, died in Vietnam in 1969.

“Growing up, there was no question we all got his work ethic,” said Peter. “He was quite an example.”

Dr. Curtis had a private practice at the house in Osterville. His wife, June, was a registered nurse. They met in Providence, Rhode Island, during Dr. Curtis’ surgical training.  The children remember their father leaving the house on Friday evening to go to the hospital for call in the emergency room and they would not see him until Monday morning.

“He was known for passing the school bus in his convertible on his way to the hospital,” Joan said.

Dr. Curtis spent a lot of his free time working on his boat at Crosby Boatyard in Osterville, which was “my dad’s only escape from the telephone,” Jim said.

Dr. Curtis retired in 1980 and died in 2002 at the age of 87. During his life, he was active with the American Red Cross blood drives and the American Cancer Society, where he took time to educate young people about the causes of cancer.

“He was all about people,” Joan said.

A Grateful Patient

Grenon’s visits to the Curtis home continued for many years after he spotted Dr. Curtis’ practice sign outside of the house one day when he was traveling through Osterville. He remembers one somber visit in 1970, a year after Fred was killed in Vietnam.

It was this knowledge that ultimately allowed Grenon to connect with the Curtis children. He was looking up names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, and found Fred’s name. Fred’s cousin, Kate Donahue, had left her contact information on the site and Grenon emailed her and asked if she was related to Dr. Curtis. This spring, she responded and connected him with the three Curtis children. Their first meeting took place at a restaurant in Providence, RI, on September 5, 2018.

At Cape Cod Hospital, one day later, the group reunited to meet with Bea Gremlich, senior development officer at the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation, and share their story.

“David’s story brought us full circle and made us feel we would like to have something at the hospital” to commemorate their father, Joan Carleton said. Grenon’s donation in gratitude to the surgeon who saved his leg will be earmarked for the hospital’s medical school fund. The fund, which is administered by Hyannis surgeon Stephen Brooks, MD, FACS, RPVI, helps medical students at CCH in many ways.

A plaque noting Dr. Curtis’ tenure and contributions at CCH will also be placed within the hospital at an as yet undetermined location, Gremlich said.

Despite the trauma of the accident, Grenon said it was not all bad news that day of the accident. He met a young woman who would later become his wife, when she visited him at Cape Cod Hospital with her parents, who were family friends. The couple have been married 57 years and have five children, 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

Grenon said he is glad to honor the doctor who played such a pivotal role in his life and summed up his decision to give in his memory in this way:

“Be thankful and grateful, and don’t forget it.”

He recalled the saying he never forgot from his high school Latin teacher: “Gratitude is an expression of favors to come.”


Featured Image: L-R; CCHC Senior Development Officer Bea Gremlich, Peter Curtis, Joan Carleton, Jim Curtis and David Grenon.