Physiatrist brings new specialty to range of medical treatment

While growing up in Nigeria, Pedro Toweh knew at age 10 that, someday, he would practice medicine.

“My mother says I always wanted to be a doctor,” said Oaklawn Medical Group’s new doctor of physical medicine and rehabilitation. And Toweh found his thirst for knowledge encouraged at every turn.

“Education was a priority for everybody” in his family, said Toweh, whose late father – like many of his relatives – was a civil engineer. “The hunger for education was always there.”

After satisfying that hunger through medical training in the United States, Toweh, 50, will start work as a physiatrist in early October at Oaklawn Medical Group Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. The practice, at 13695 15-Mile Road, may be contacted at (800) OAKLAWN or (269) 781-4271.

A physiatrist – also called a rehabilitation physician – is a medical doctor trained in how nerves, brain, muscles and bones interact, and who diagnoses and treats injuries or illnesses that affect how people move. The field is known as physical medicine and rehabilitation, or PM&R.

“Our local primary care physicians have expressed a great need for a local physiatrist,” said Mark Montross, Executive Director of the Oaklawn Medical Group. “Physiatrists typically treat patients with disabilities ranging from sore shoulders, necks and backs to spinal cord and brain injuries, and develop customized programs for treatment of injury or disease, without surgery.”

Toweh said some people who first hear the term “physiatrist” imagine he’s a psychiatrist instead.

“Or they think I’m a physical therapist – which I am too – but it’s more than that, because I’m also a medical doctor. It’s a small specialty but it’s become more popular because of the significant role it plays in certain areas, especially for the aging population. We also are the primary-care physicians for the disabled community.”

Toweh earned his bachelor of science degree in physical therapy at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria in 1990, and a second bachelor of science degree in biochemistry from the University of Detroit Mercy in 1999, six years after coming to the United States.

He obtained his medical degree in 2006 from Wayne State University School of Medicine and earlier this year completed his residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark., where he served as resident physician from 2007 to 2010 and 2011 to 2012.

Toweh also served as attending physician for Metro Mobile Physicians P.C., in Ferndale in 2011. He is a member of the American Medical Association, the National Medical Association and the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.

Physiatrists have a holistic approach to patient care, and study how psychological, physical and social issues impact the patient’s mental and physical condition, Toweh said.

“We take a great deal into consideration,” he said. “We’re also strong on preventive medicine, to deal with problems before they get out of hand. I talk to patients about their general health, particularly nutrition, regular exercise and stress management. We believe food can be used as medicine. We use medicines very sparingly, relying more on physical exercise and physical modalities for the relief of pain.”

Toweh is trained in medical acupuncture, which he uses primarily to manage chronic pain, such as fibromyalgia, back pain, neuropathic pain and migraine headaches. He also has found it useful for other conditions such as smoking cessation, alcoholism and gynecological issues.

“We have successfully recruited several new and amazing physicians to Oaklawn,” said Montross. “Dr. Toweh is certainly no exception. He is very passionate about his specialty, and is also compassionate in how he treats his patients. We are excited to have him join Oaklawn’s medical staff, and fortunate to have him and his family become part of our community.”

Toweh’s first visit to Marshall was in July, and – because he grew up in a city of similar size – he felt immediately at ease.

“What I especially like about Marshall is that the people are very warm, very friendly – they’re family-centered,” he said. “I have a family and I wanted a safe place to raise my children. Another advantage is the school system. I couldn’t ask for anything better for my young children, because I put a lot of emphasis on education.”

Toweh and his wife Queen have three children, ages 6, 10 and 12. The family is in the process of moving to a residence in the city. A former competitive soccer and cricket player, Toweh probably will look for an area team with which to play, he said. A prolific reader, he enjoys Scrabble, chess and table tennis and practices yoga and meditation avidly.

Toweh’s hometown in the Nigerian state of Delta is a city of a comparable size to Marshall, and he likes the idea of small-town life again.

“Marshall stood out as a small community with very big ideas,” he said.