Patient Thanks Professor for Saving Her LifeDecember 21, 2021
Donald Penney, MD, MsC, FACEP, a clinical professor of emergency medicine who was recently appointed chair of the
Department of Clinical Education at PCOM Georgia, experienced an incredible gift just before the holidays. A former patient, who says
he saved her life some 27 years ago, reached out to thank him.
The reunion between Dr. Penney and Rachelle Broom, RN, MSN, a nurse at Northeast Georgia
Medical Center who is studying to be a family nurse practitioner at Brenau University,
was made possible through a mutual friend. Renee Himmelbaum, DO, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at PCOM Georgia and a practicing pediatrician
in Gwinnett, introduced the two medical professionals through email. Dr. Himmelbaum,
who graduated from PCOM Georgia, is a former student of Dr. Penney’s and now a colleague.
A life-changing accident
The physician/patient story began in 1994. Following a high school football game,
18-year-old Broom, a senior at Norcross High School, was riding in the backseat of
a Bronco 2 with her boyfriend, Brian Watkins, 19. Neither were wearing seatbelts.
In a matter of seconds, the driver overcorrected as the SUV ran off the road. The
vehicle flipped and the couple was ejected. Watkins was later pronounced brain dead
at the hospital. Broom survived with multiple injuries to her right side, including
a head injury.
Penney was on call that night. Recruited to Gwinnett Medical Center in Lawrenceville
(now Northside Hospital Gwinnett), in 1993 as the second neurosurgeon for fast-growing
Gwinnett County, Penney evaluated the situation. He recalls that Broom had a life-threatening
brain hemorrhage. He discussed the situation with Broom’s mother and received permission
to perform a craniotomy.
A life-saving procedure
He said, “Obviously the surgery had a good outcome. It changed Rachelle’s life and
I’m honored to be here. It’s humbling for me,” he said, acknowledging the gifts he
believes he’s been given.
He noted, “As a neurosurgeon for over 30 years, it’s not like you have this experience
often. With more than 1,000 procedures during my career, only two to three former
patients have contacted me.”
Penney grew up in Toronto, Canada, and trained at McGill University in Montreal. He
honed his skills at Cook County Hospital’s level one trauma center in Chicago (now
known as the John H. Stroger, Jr Hospital of Cook County), which is well known for
He said, “I was at the right place at the right time. I’ve been blessed with mentors
throughout my career.”
Coming full circle
Penney worked as a neurosurgeon in Gwinnett for 20 years before moving to Casper,
Wyoming, to work in a trauma center. His family, including his wife, Line, and his
youngest daughter, Dawn, made the decision to return to Gwinnett in 2016 and he accepted
a teaching position at PCOM Georgia. Dawn Penney (DO ’23) is now a member of the PCOM
Georgia DO class of 2023.
Broom credits the accident with launching her interest in health care and a nursing
career. The first person in her family to graduate from college, she earned an RN
in 2003, and a master’s degree in nursing from the University of South Alabama in
She worked in a variety of nursing settings and states before returning to Georgia
in 2015 to work at Gwinnett Medical Center. Coming full circle, she knew for many
years that she wanted to thank Dr. Penney for saving her life. It took seven years,
some internet research, and a serendipitous friendship for the meeting to occur.
A new relationship
The in-person reunion took place outside in front of the main PCOM Georgia building
so the two medical professionals could talk without wearing masks due to COVID-19.
Broom’s fiancé, Ryan Gilmore, accompanied Broom.
A new year will begin soon and a new relationship has formed. The meeting between
the nurse and the physician may prove fruitful for Penney’s students who learn through
their teachers’ experiences and for those less fortunate. Penney organizes medical
mission trips and asked Broom if she and Gilmore would like to accompany the next
team. They are ready.
The tragedy some 27 years ago has a happy outcome – for Dr. Penney, for Rachelle Broom,
for the medical students at PCOM Georgia, and potentially for those in need. As novelist
Frank Herbert, wrote, “There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop
Thanks to this special reunion, their story may continue beyond what these two healthcare
professionals can even imagine.
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About PCOM Georgia
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated
to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia
College of Osteopathic Medicine, a premier osteopathic medical school with a storied
history. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and
physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences, medical laboratory science,
and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM
Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service
to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center,
an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment.
For more information, visit pcom.edu/georgia or call 678-225-7500.
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