If facing end-stage organ failure, a kidney, pancreas, liver, lung, intestine or heart transplant will help you embrace life again.
They grew up in Montreal, Canada met in high school and had what some might consider a few unusual first dates – reviewing histology slides and discussing the workings of the human body.
They both earned their medical degrees from McGill University Faculty of Medicine Hospital in Montreal, and have been married for more than 20 years.
Dr. Fridell is Chief of Abdominal Transplant Surgery and has been with IU Health since 2002. Dr. Schwartz is a hematologist who specializes in bone marrow and stem cell transplantation and has been with IU Health since 2003. She is also the Assistant Dean for Medical Students Education Phase 2 at IU School of Medicine.
Dr. Schwartz said she’s known since Kindergarten that she wanted to be a doctor. “It was a fundamental calling. When I visited my family physician, I liked his caring and his warmth. I wanted my chance to help people and make them better. People ask if taking care of patients with blood cancers is difficult and I tell them it’s my honor to help patients as they progress through the ups and downs of treatment. Their strength inspires me every day.” Like his wife, Dr. Fridell also thrives on walking with his patients throughout their journey – before, during and after transplant.
“Right after transplant people are often very emotional. When they say ‘thank you’ I remind them they have an opportunity to write a letter to their donor family – that somewhere, someone has gone through something terrible and has given them a chance at a new life,” said Fridell.
Here is more from Drs. Schwartz and Fridell:
What do you like best about your fields?
Dr. Schwartz: “I thought the blood was fascinating in medical school. When I was in high school my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She overcame it and then in my second year of medical school she was diagnosed with secondary leukemia. Due to her previous chemotherapy and despite many treatments, she died. The thing that I had found fascinating became the thing I wanted to fight. It’s still so amazing to look at the immune system as a partner to help fight the disease. While my passion comes from having lost her to it what continues to draw me to it are the patients – they are amazing. I think I can empathize with the patients because I’ve sat on the other side of the desk when the news wasn’t so good. I’ve ridden that roller coaster so I think I can understand some of what my patients and their families are going through ”
Dr. Fridell: “I wanted to be a plastic surgeon. Everything I did in medical school was geared toward that. Then I was in my intern year of general surgery and we had a woman in ICU who had advanced cirrhosis and was dying of liver failure. We temporized using an ex-vivo pig liver (like dialysis) to bridge her to transplant and then she received a liver transplant from Toronto. I spent two years in the lab researching this event. It was a turning point for me to see what transplants could do. What I realize when I’m doing reconstructive surgery for the abdomen is that where most surgeries cut away and take out, we are putting in. Transplantation has the potential of being magic. I really enjoy being a doctor. I enjoy the challenges of medicine and one of the special things of transplant is you get to do difficult operations but you have to be at the top of your game because there are always medical challenges related to the necessary immunosuppression medication and the underlying comorbities. I consider this one of the most grateful patient populations.”
What does life look like at the Fridell/Schwartz home on a typical evening?
Dr. Schwartz: “We have two daughters ages 11 and 10. Probably like most families you have work, home and kids’ activities. It could be soccer or dance, and we just have to be strategic about when we need help. In the evenings we do homework and talk about our day. We’re really a typical family.”
Dr. Fridell: “Mornings are the usual hustle and bustle of most homes with kids. We always take the girls to school. That’s our thing. With transplant you don’t know when you’ll get called in but we try to plan as much as we can. We also love to travel. We just took the kids to New York for the first time.”
If your daughters decided to go into medicine, what would you say?
Dr. Schwartz: “I would tell them to do what they love. We have one daughter who loves math. She saw the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ and she wants to work for NASA. The other one loves to dance and wants to be a teacher.”
Dr. Fridell: “There’s no doubt our daughters have been exposed to our careers. One of them was about four or five and talking about being dehydrated and using words like ‘trachea.’”
One of you is a Star Wars fan, correct?
Dr. Schwartz: “He is a collector. I’m not to that point but growing up as a kid I had action figures and I loved Star Wars.”
Dr. Fridell: “She likes Star Trek and James Bond more. I definitely like Star Wars more”.
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.