Throwback Thursday: History of Medical Science in the RGV

Throwback Thursday

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — The first organized medicine that came into the Rio Grande Valley was in 1855. Dr. Charles Berthod Combe who was involved in the Civil War, was a surgeon from the northeast. The good doctor left a legacy any father would be proud of leaving. His three sons, Joseph, Charles Jr. and Frederick followed in his footsteps and became doctors as well.

In Brownsville in 1913 there was a rudimentary hospital called the Charity Home (Casa De Caridades). It was was a little cottage that was set up by some of the ladies of society in Brownsville. More than anything they attended to the healing of superficial wounds. Nora Kelly was really the brains behind the establishment of the Charity Home. In 1923 it evolved into what we knew as Mercy Hospital and that was the first real hospital in Brownsville.

Those who are old enough to remember the term “house call” can remember doctors coming to their homes with a leather bag, diagnosed the patient, prescribed treatment and then, “house call” over. The accounts receivable from these doctors back then could have actually propelled them into retirement five, ten times over because they charged very little if they charged anything at all.

Dr. James Linton Rentfro that was a notable physician in the Brownsville area. He began service in the teens. The saying goes that he delivered everybody’s babies and actually worked himself to death. Dr. Rentfro went around at the dark of the night on a call and he died at the age of 65. The whole city shut down for his funeral. That is how beloved he was.

His son, Dr. James Ballard Rentfro was the same way as his father. He would go off in the dark of the night make house calls. On one occasion, one of his patients had missed her bus. Dr. Rentfro decided to drive her back to her home in Port Isabel. Can you imagine the humanity of this doctor?

Physicians such as Dr. Charles McManus and Dr. Arthur Spohn took the Hippocratic Oath to heart. If there was any kind of a problem about payment, they just performed their service did away with the payment until the patient recovered. The doctors of those times worked their way into our hearts. They brought us into this world, and many of them went up and beyond their duties.

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