Dr. Bruce Churchill was arguably one of the best obstetricians in southern Maine, known for his exceptional care and his ability to listen and help women feel at ease.

While that work was an important part of his life, nothing topped the love he had for his wife, Cindy, and their three daughters, Cristina, Tessa and Leah.

He coached his daughters when they played volleyball at Greely High School in Cumberland and served as the team’s assistant coach for 11 seasons.

He died on Monday after a five-year battle with ALS, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 57.

Churchill was a prominent obstetrician/gynecologist at Coastal Women’s Health Care in Scarborough. His colleagues remembered him Thursday as a “gifted obstetrician” who got to know his patients and counseled many families through delicate fertility issues.

His love of obstetrics led him to teach and mentor resident physicians and medical students.

Dr. Kevin Andrews, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Coastal Women’s Health Care, noted Churchill’s ability to make his patients feel comfortable.

“He could meet patients and they would immediately be able to trust him,” Andrews said. “He would connect with people right off. … Patients felt he truly cared about them, and he did.”

Dr. David Ernst, who practiced with Churchill for 23 years, said he had an ability to listen and communicate with his patients.

“Bruce could see a lot of patients and still really give them good care,” he said. “His patients were extremely fond of him, and so were his colleagues.”

His obituary, which is expected to appear in Sunday’s Maine Sunday Telegram, says he practiced for more than 30 years and delivered 6,000 babies.

Those babies include the first child of Kim Block, a news anchor and reporter for WGME-TV. He also delivered the two sons of Cindy Williams, an evening news anchor and reporter for WCSH.

“He was just an amazing man,” Williams said. “He was such a great doctor. He always took the time to listen to you. He listened. He heard. He got it. We will miss him.”

In 2007, Churchill suddenly found himself in a fight against a relentless disease.

He began to feel weakness in his legs and started having trouble walking. It took doctors about six months to confirm their worst fears: He had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

ALS is a progressive neurological disease that attacks the brain and spinal cord. It has no known cure.

“When Bruce first learned he had ALS, he was devastated,” said his wife, who lives in Cumberland. “Then, he became determined to fight it and became an advocate. … He just really prayed (for) a cure. He believed that it could happen in his time. He was willing to do anything to live longer just to stay with us.”

His wife reminisced Thursday about the life they had together. She talked about taking trips to Italy, playing tennis and going camping and hiking.

She said he was active in his daughters’ lives and tried hard to make it to their school activities. He almost always got home to eat dinner with his family, she said.

“We spent so much time talking at the dinner table,” she said. “He was always looking for opportunities to talk to them and teach them. He never knew how much time he had left.”

Cindy Churchill recalled the night last winter when the family hosted a cocktail party. The guests dressed in formal attire and enjoyed drinks and appetizers. They sat around the living room and laughed and told stories.

In March, the family hosted an event at their home that included the University of Southern Maine’s Jazz Ensemble and traditional New Orleans food.

“It was really great,” she said. “I felt so happy that happened. We were always trying to celebrate life.”

As his disease progressed, Churchill used a cane, then a walker, to help him walk. When he lost the use of his legs, he used a wheelchair to get around.

He gave up his practice in 2010 but continued coaching Greely High’s volleyball team. He went to every practice and game he could.

The team rallied around him in September 2010, taking part in the annual Walk to Defeat ALS, put on by the Northern New England Chapter of the ALS Association. The girls wore T-shirts that read “Churchill’s Champions.”

Last fall, Churchill helped guide the team to a state championship.

Coach Calvin Hasch said Churchill was a natural coach who brought out the best in his players and inspired the team to succeed.

“He had a real competitive edge to him,” Hasch said. “That came out naturally to the kids, encouraging them to work hard to get better. … His can-do demeanor that he always brought to the team will be missed.”

On Monday, the day he died, many of his players gathered at a former teammate’s house to grieve the loss.

Danielle Cimino, 17, a standout on the team who will start her senior year at Greely this fall, said he was a great coach and an inspiration to many people.

“He was a mentor,” she said. “He taught us more than the game. He taught us to live in the moment and not to stress about the little things. Teenagers sometimes don’t always get that.”

Cindy Churchill talked briefly about this year’s Walk to Defeat ALS — a cause that’s close to her heart.

Her husband participated in the walk for the past five years, and she is the chairwoman for this year’s event.

“I just feel like I’ve got to keep doing stuff,” she said. “If I, who have a direct connection to this disease, don’t push to increase awareness and research, then who’s going to do it?”

She said, “ALS research is highly underfunded. There’s no logical reason why people are getting this disease. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. We need to keep doing research.”

Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

[email protected]

 


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