This isn’t Dr. Steve Brotherton’s first rodeo.
This month, the Fort Worth orthopedic surgeon will be on duty at the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo for the 32nd year. For the past 11 years, Dr. Brotherton has served as the Stock Show’s Medical Director.
“It’s a fun gig,” remarks Dr. Brotherton, as he reflects on more than three decades of work at Fort Worth’s best-known event.
The Stock Show, known formally as the Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, is big business in Fort Worth, drawing more than 400,000 visitors annually. There is no doubt it’s a big economic generator, but it’s also much more. Established in 1896, the Stock Show is an integral part of Fort Worth’s identity and culture. It was also the world’s first indoor rodeo.
Dr. Brotherton served on a physician team for many years at the Stock Show under the event’s longtime Medical Director, the late Dr. Charles Rush. Dr. Rush, who Dr. Brotherton regarded as a mentor, provided medical services at the rodeo for more than 50 years, until his death in 2006.
As to how Dr. Brotherton became the new medical director, he explains, “I had no choice in the matter. At Charlie’s funeral, Ed Bass, the president of the Stock Show, came up to me and said, ‘I know you will do just as good a job as Charlie did.’”
“Needless to say, you don’t say no to Ed Bass in Fort Worth, Texas,” Dr. Brotherton laughs.
Invisible, but Vital
Today, Dr. Brotherton oversees a team of eight physicians, who take turns staffing the event. The medical staff also includes a full-time nurse. Dr. Brotherton is joined on this team by two of his colleagues at the Texas Health Care Bone and Joint Clinic, Dr. Steven Meyers and Dr. Donald Dolce.
Dr. Meyers, a sports medicine physician, is now in his twelfth year working the Stock Show. Dr. Dolce, an orthopedic surgeon, is in his third year, although he previously did medical work for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Other physicians on the team come from a variety of specialties, including pulmonary care, emergency care and internal medicine.
“There is at least one doctor on site for each performance, so we all work four or five shows a year, on average,” Dr. Meyers explains.
The physicians’ responsibilities include attending to any and all medical needs for attendees, the support staff, hundreds of vendors, carnival workers and parking lot attendants. The Stock Show doctors are also available to consult for the Justin Boots Sports Medicine Team, which attends to the medical needs of athletes who participate in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) events. Any other athletes who have a medical need fall under the responsibilities of Dr. Brotherton and his team. “We’re there when people need us,” Dr. Brotherton says. “Until then, our job is to be invisible as possible.”
The physicians work out of a small first-aid station set up in the arena and have treated just about everything in their combined years at the rodeo: asthma, upper respiratory ailments, broken ankles, slip and fall injuries, lacerations and even acute chest pain.
“We also see an occasional Calf Scramble participant who got banged up,” Dr. Meyers says. This Stock Show tradition features 16 young folks chasing eight calves around, with the objective of roping them and dragging them to the center of the arena.
According to Dr. Meyers, asthma is one of the most common ailments he and his colleagues treat. “The rodeo kicks up dust and can cause kids’ asthma to go haywire,” he explains. “It’s not unusual to administer a couple of breathing treatments at each show.”
Dr. Brotherton notes the need for medical services has fallen by about one-third since smoking was banned inside the arena. He also predicts that when the Stock Show moves into Dickie’s Arena in 2020, the new facility’s modern air handling system will further reduce asthma complications by more efficiently filtering the air and removing dust.
One of the more dramatic cases Dr. Brotherton recalls is that of a Canadian bareback rider who was injured during his competition. “He had an open tib-fib,” Dr. Brotherton says, shorthand for a broken tibia and fibula, with the bones protruding from the patient’s leg.
Dr. Brotherton rushed the severely-injured athlete to a nearby hospital. The sports medicine physicians who travel with the PRCA athletes didn’t have local hospital admitting privileges, so Dr. Brotherton performed the emergency surgery. The athlete made a full recovery and returned to riding the following year.
Donating Time and More
The physicians do all of this work on a volunteer basis. While the Stock Show does compensate them for their services, the doctors donate their earnings to charity. In addition to contributing their time, they also donate equipment and supplies from their own practices to the medical operation at the Stock Show.
The Stock Show’s scholarship funds are also beneficiaries of the physicians’ generosity. Each year, the doctors contribute financially to both the Calf Scramble and the Agriculture Development Fund.
Calf Scramble participants receive a scholarship to purchase a beef or dairy heifer. They are responsible for raising the heifer for a year and then returning with it to exhibit in the following year’s show. In 2017, 70 students received scholarships totaling $269,000.
The Agriculture Development Fund is connected to the Stock Show and provides financial benefits for junior livestock exhibitors whose livestock win a prize, yet do not qualify to be sold at the show. In 2017, this fund raised $225,000.
The Grand Entry
Without exception, Drs. Brotherton, Meyers and Dolce each brought up the Grand Entry when reflecting on their Stock Show memories. This tradition takes place at the beginning of each show, featuring anywhere from 50 to 300 rodeo participants, Stock Show officials and special guests parading into the arena on horseback. It’s a unique pageantry that participants and spectators alike always look forward to.
As Dr. Dolce says, getting to ride in the Grand Entry is a “nice perk” that comes with the physicians’ volunteer work. Dr. Meyers is pictured above riding in the Grand Entry.
Dr. Brotherton good-naturedly recounts Dr. Dolce’s first time to ride in the Grand Entry:
I asked Don if he could ride. ‘Sure, I can ride,’ Don tells me. OK, I said. We’ll put you in the Grand Entry.
Before the show began, I went up to another fellow who would be riding in the Grand Entry. ‘My partner says he can ride a horse, but I’ve never seen him ride. Would you mind keeping an eye on him?’ The gentlemen agreed.
So, the Grand Entry begins and Don’s doing great – he’s sitting up straight in the saddle, looking straight ahead, his hands on the reins. He looks great. And then they start riding…so far, so good. Then it comes time to turn.
Let’s just say that Don and the horse had a difference of opinion as to which direction they should go. We all got a kick out of it.
Later, I learned from our office staff that Don had been watching YouTube videos to learn how to ride a horse!
The 2018 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo runs from January 12 to February 3.
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