By Pat Sabiston
Adored by his patients and celebrated by the local music community, Dr. Crayton has reached soaring heights of success as Bay County’s most senior practicing rheumatologist and as revered saxophone player in his spare time. But devastating news shook his world last year when he was diagnosed with cancer . Mere months after his first diagnosis, Dr . Crayton is celebrating a comeback and rises yet again to new heights. In a recent interview he talks about everything in between, with lessons learned along the way and candid, personal, and sometimes painful insights to share with others.
Sixteen years ago in May, Dr . Crayton relocated his family to Bay County from Racine, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin’s Medical School in 1985. He also holds a master’s degree in Hospital Administration, which made him uniquely qualified to run his own practice, The Arthritis and Infusion Center. With almost four decades in his field, he is the region’s most experienced rheumatologist. (Rheumatology is the diagnosis and treatment of more than 150 arthritic and connective-tissue disorders.)
“When I decided to move, I started driving south, stopping at hardware stores along the way, and when I came to a store that didn’t sell snow shovels, I knew I was home,” jokes Crayton.
Together with wife Dinah, Dr. Crayton called the Crayton Foundation into life to assist minorities in their quest to attend college. The first scholarship the Craytons endowed was the Crayton Health Scholarship at Florida State University/Panama City. As an avid supporter of the arts in Bay County, Dr. Crayton has served on the boards of the Bay Arts Alliance, where he is a generous donor, and the Visual Arts Center of NW Florida . Other community involvement includes serving on the board of directors of B .A .S .I .C . and Bay County Chamber of Commerce.
“Bay County has been extremely good to me, and until I became sick, life was fairly sublime! My practice was flourishing and my music career was on the upswing,” said Crayton. Then, in the summer of 2013, tragedy struck . “I lost weight rapidly, and then I ended up in the emergency room, bleeding profusely. Subsequently, Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center referred me to the U.A.B. Medical Center where I was diagnosed with two types of leukemia,” said Crayton. “I was told I almost died. Twice. But this extraordinary community rallied around me. I could feel their prayers.”
Janice Lucas and Rebecca Jackson, sorority sisters of Mrs. Crayton, swung into action by getting Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, involved in “Swab for Doc: Bone Marrow Drives.” Numerous events were held all over town, but to date, there has been no match. “Even though the search for a donor wasn’t successful, there is a difference of opinion among medical professionals as to whether or not a match will be needed,” he said. “Since I am in remission, and am watching my diet, exercising, and remaining positive—elements, by the way, I encourage in all my patients— the bone marrow drives were still very valuable to the Be the Match Registry, so there was definite worth in what I went through.”
So what does a physician do when he or she becomes a patient? “It was a definite challenge, but we were able to bring in other doctors to help cover with my patients, and I also hired nurse practitioners who were specialists in
rheumatology. Plus, we have Florida’s only ultrasound technician registered in musculoskeletal ultrasound through the American Registry of Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, so I feel the quality of medical treatment was not compromised,” explained Crayton . “But because so many of my patients are also friends, it was very difficult for me to be away from them. I get such joy out of treating people and watching them progress to good health,” he said . “One of my patients has gone from being wheelchair bound to inviting me to her birthday party where she will parachute out of an airplane. Now that’s extremely gratifying, not to mention amazing!”
Have you changed your work philosophy?
“You know, some people say the ‘best things in life are free.’ However, the best things in life are really those things that you work hard to achieve yourself because when you apply your own sweat equity, you tend to appreciate them more and don’t take them for granted. But my life was very much out of balance, and I was putting too much emphasis in areas where there was no real personal return on emotional, mental, and physical investment.”
Were there lessons learned in this year of healing and retrospection?
“The hardest lesson is something that isn’t easy to share. It’s said, ‘Pride cometh before the fall,’ and I can certainly relate, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I was enormously proud of my medical practice and my extraordinary staff . I was on a musical high with my avocation. (Dr. Crayton enjoys playing the saxophone professionally, under the stage name HULON.) Plus, I was into the ‘good life’, not taking care of my body and soul, and certainly putting far too much emphasis on material things.
I no longer take anything for granted and have a greater appreciation for my wife, my staff, and other people. You know, God has His ways of getting your attention, and He certainly got mine.
As a result of losing my health, my wife and I are now closer than ever and begin each day in the Word, ending with prayer for wisdom and discernment. Plus, I have gotten rid of some things that held no eternal value. And as any doctor who has survived a life- threatening illness will tell you—you come out of the experience a changed person, when you begin to see patients again. My struggles have actually enhanced my time with patients in that I am much more empathetic. God has also enhanced my desire to continue servicing the poor.
I have also learned there are times in which we must take a pause and give thanks. I am very thankful for everything—my fans, friends, patients, family, and God, all of whom have helped shape me into the person I am today. I feel so blessed. I like the quote from Jodi Picoult: ‘If you tell yourself you feel fine, you will be.’ My wife has begun to feed me holistic, clean meals that, combined with exercise, have provided me with renewed energy.
So like the phoenix rising from the ashes, God has restored ‘what the locusts ate.’ He has restored my health and medical practice. He has even given me new lung stamina in order to begin to play my sax again . In fact, a new CD is even in the works, so once again, I’m soaring!”
Is there advice you could give our readers?
“What I would like to leave with your readers is that life is precious and, all too often, short. Living with integrity, humility, and faith is my life goal moving forward . God will never leave, nor forsake His children. We need to thank God for our food, homes, careers, and health; and, yes, I even thank God for my illness and pain. He doesn’t say to thank Him for our hardships; but we are to thank Him in every difficult circumstance we experience, and I give Him all the glory for what has been, is, and will be in my future.”
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