TWIN FALLS — Dr. David McClusky II grew up tagging along with his father on evening house calls. A childhood pastime was dissecting frogs and fetal pigs.
For McClusky, who was born and raised in Twin Falls, there was no question in his mind he’d become a physician.
After more than 35 years as a general surgeon, McClusky — a third-generation Twin Falls physician — closed his practice June 1 at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center.
But he’s quick to point out he’s not retiring from medicine. “I’m just changing direction,” he said Wednesday.
His sister Karen Forrey — a registered nurse at St. Luke’s Mountain States Tumor Institute in Boise — was in Twin Falls on Wednesday. As her older brother talked about his plans in the front office of his empty clinic, she chimed in: “He’s flunking retirement.”
McClusky, who started his general surgery practice in 1982, will be a professor of surgery at Idaho’s first medical school, Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine, starting in August in Meridian.
He also plans to continue assisting with surgeries and being back in the Magic Valley helping medical students. It’s a community he loves and where he has deep roots.
His grandfather arrived in Buhl in 1908, when the town was only 2 years old. He was the primary doctor in that community until his death in 1928.
McClusky’s father practiced in the Buhl area until he left the area to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. When he returned home to the Magic Valley, he and three other physicians formed the Twin Falls Clinic and Hospital.
“The great thing about moving back was I picked up some of my dad and grandfather’s patients,” McClusky said.
In addition to healthcare, the McClusky family has a long history of community involvement here in the Magic Valley, one that could easily fill an entire book.
“It’s just kind of in our genes, I think,” he said. “It really started with our grandparents.”
McClusky is an active community volunteer and has received many awards throughout the years. He founded Camp Rainbow Gold in the mid-1980s for children who have cancer, which is now a nonprofit that has grown significantly.
He was also instrumental in helping launch the Wellness Tree Community Clinic, a nonprofit in Twin Falls that provides medical and dental care for those living at or below the poverty level or who don’t have health insurance. He created the first hospice program in the Magic Valley. And he’s a member of the Idaho Board of Correction.
McClusky said he’s very fortunate the community has been wonderful to him.
“I don’t think I should use that just for my own benefit,” he said, adding that wasn’t the way he was raised.
As he talked about memories and volunteer work, tears started to well up in his eyes. It has been a great ride, he said, to be part of where he grew up.
Now, McClusky’s two sons are the fourth-generation of healthcare providers in his family — one of whom is here in south-central Idaho.
“What other person can say they were part of four generations of medicine in the same place?” he said.
Dr. David McClusky III is a general surgeon at St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center, and chairman of surgery and medical director of simulation at the Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine. He’s also a member of the St. Luke’s east region board of directors. John McClusky is a physician’s assistant in Texas.
Growing up, McClusky didn’t consider going into any profession except medicine. “I don’t think I ever had any question I wanted to,” he said.
McClusky said Wednesday he decided on general surgery because he’s a visual person. And he enjoys anatomy, which he says he only had to learn once, unlike other medical specialties that seem to change every five years.
“Anatomy is such as significant part of surgery,” he said. “I’ve loved anatomy all my life.”
One highlight of his career was being able to perform surgeries with his son, David.
“I think the exciting thing was being able to operate with my son,” the elder McClusky said. “Laparoscopically, he runs circles around me.”
The father-son duo still perform surgeries together in the Magic and Wood River valleys, helping each other out. The elder McClusky, for example, has helped his son perform mastectomies.
When McClusky became a physician, general surgeons did pretty much all surgeries, including for cancer patients and gastrointestinal conditions. “When I went through, we did all that,” he said.
McClusky is working on packing up his office at St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Plaza 1. His office is full of old medical equipment, some of it in plastic storage bins.
On Wednesday, McClusky opened a black leather doctor bag his father used to take on house calls to deliver babies. He unfastened a flap on the side of the bag and pulled out a long copper box full of metal tools.
His grandfather’s doctor bag was in his car Wednesday to prepare for a presentation at a Rotary Club of Twin Falls meeting.
A framed drawing in McClusky’s office shows the four founders of the Twin Falls Clinic and Hospital — including McClusky’s father — and their three buildings over the years. Another prized possession: an x-ray image in glass of a broken leg — the first x-ray taken at his father’s clinic.
A family legacy
On Wednesday, McClusky and Forrey laid out black-and-white family photos on a countertop in the empty reception area of McClusky’s clinic. Nearby was a copy of a 1956 edition of the Times-News, which includes a story chronicling the family’s history in the Magic Valley.
One of the photographs shows their grandfather Albert McClusky outside his first medical clinic in Santa, a north Idaho town that used to be surrounded by logging camps, shortly after graduating from medical school in 1906.
“He had a bad left leg and he always had trouble with that,” McClusky said, and the only way he could get around was on horseback. His leg was later amputated and he used a wooden prosthetic limb.
Albert ended up coming to Rupert, where a friend suggested he should consider moving to Buhl to become the community’s physician.
In 1908, he made the move. At the time, Buhl was only 2 years old. Albert was also mayor from 1921-1927.
McClusky’s father — whose name he shares — was among 11 children in a family living in a remote area along the South Fork of the Salmon River. His biological mother died during childbirth at age 34. The family used milk from a cow to feed the newborn baby.
Many of the children ended up at a Boise orphanage and some were later adopted. McClusky’s grandparents adopted four of the children, including McClusky’s father, who was 10 years old at the time.
McClusky told stories Wednesday about some of the house calls his grandfather made, including getting his horse and buggy on a ferry in the middle of the night to take care of someone who had typhoid fever.
There was a spinal meningitis outbreak in Buhl during the 1920s. Albert was trying to care for people in the community and contracted it after taking a young boy to the hospital.
He died in 1928, before the days of penicillin. Since there was a quarantine in Buhl due to the spinal meningitis outbreak, the family held his funeral in front of their home.
Albert’s wife, Louise, started a camp called the McClusky Health Camp, in honor of her husband. The camp was in the present day McClusky Park in Buhl. Its purpose was to feed malnourished children and children who had become sickly from tuberculosis, the flu or pneumonia.
McClusky’s father became a doctor and as a child, McClusky tagged along on his house calls. He wasn’t allowed to see the people his father was treating, so he played with the residents’ animals instead.
A few decades ago, McClusky launched a camp for children who have cancer — what’s now Camp Rainbow Gold.
The idea for a camp started when one of his patients — a Twin Falls boy who had cancer — told McClusky he wanted to go to a Boy Scout camp but couldn’t find one that could accommodate his medical needs.
“I thought, ‘well, that’s not really fair,’” McClusky said.
He was involved with Boy Scouts of America and was a board member of the American Cancer Society at the time. American Cancer Society applied for and received a $5,000 grant to create a camp for children who have cancer.
McClusky, a few nurses and American Cancer Society staff members held the first camp in McCall, with about 20 children in attendance.
“Thirty-five summers later, we’ve gone from a weekend of camping to five camps,” said Elizabeth Lizberg, CEO of Camp Rainbow Gold.
Camps are held at Cathedral Pines and Camp Perkins, as well as other year-round programs.
“All of that has been with (McClusky’s) hands along the way,” Lizberg said.
The nonprofit has expanded significantly since it was founded. “It’s been kind of fun to see that grow,” McClusky said. He used to be on the nonprofit’s board, but now his son is. ‘I’ve passed that on to him.”
McClusky has participated in Camp Rainbow Gold in many roles, including currently as an adviser, Lizberg said. “He still comes up every summer. He’s just all heart and he inspires us to keep his dream alive and keep growing and reach more families.”
McClusky embodies Camp Rainbow Gold’s values every day, she said, of love, hope and fun.
Here in Twin Falls, McClusky is often referred to as an “honorary founder” of Wellness Tree Community Clinic, where he’s an active volunteer.
McClusky may be closing down his general surgery practice, but he said he won’t burn out in his medical career. That’s because he’s passionate about what he does and finds many ways to give back.
Reporter Julie Wootton-Greener can be reached at 208-735-3204.