Herbert Schwartz, former chair of Department of Pediatrics, dies at 89

Schwartz, a pediatric hematologist-oncologist, conducted research on hemoglobin and helped establish Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

- By Erin Digitale

Herbert Schwartz

Herbert Schwartz, MD, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Stanford University School of Medicine, died Nov. 13. He was 89.

Schwartz, who helped build the pediatric hematology and oncology teams at Stanford starting in the 1960s, was known by his colleagues as a caring, dedicated physician and a respected mentor and scientist. He served as acting chair of the Department of Pediatrics from 1969-70 and as chair from 1970-71.

“He was an excellent teacher, and was very devoted to the house staff and medical students,” said Philip Sunshine, MD, professor emeritus of pediatrics, who worked with Schwartz for many years. “He was a really great role model for them.” Schwartz was a frequent sounding board for his colleagues’ research ideas because of his broad knowledge of the medical literature, Sunshine added.

Schwartz was a hematologist who specialized in blood disorders and conducted research on hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in blood. He studied how hemoglobin is synthesized, discovered an abnormal form present in patients with some hemolytic anemias, and examined how changes in maternal hemoglobin in diabetic women affect the fetus during pregnancy.

“He was a kind, gentleman scholar. He liked to talk about all things science, and he was able to interest you in things he found interesting,” said Hendrik Vreman, PhD, senior research scientist in pediatrics. One day in 1982, Schwartz left a note on an intriguing Science paper about neonatal jaundice for David Stevenson, MD, the principal investigator of the lab where Vreman still works. The ideas in that paper inspired a series of studies that Stevenson, professor of pediatrics, and Vreman are still conducting. “My life has never been the same,” said Vreman. “He really affected my career tremendously. That career has given me a lot of pleasure, and it was all due to Herb.”

The value of physical contact

“He was an excellent clinical hematologist, warm, compassionate and well-liked by all the patients he cared for,” said Bert Glader, MD, professor of pediatric hematology-oncology, who was recruited to Stanford by Schwartz in 1977. “I learned a great deal of hematology from him, particularly about the synthesis and function of hemoglobin. However, my most important memory of Herb is his advice for helping patients feel comfortable in a busy hospital environment. He said, ‘Touch your patient every day.’ As hospital medicine becomes increasingly technology-focused, I think his wisdom about the value of human contact is more important than ever.”

Schwartz was born May 8, 1926, in New Haven, Connecticut. He joined the Navy during World War II and then attended college and medical school, earning his medical degree at the State University of New York in Brooklyn in 1952. He first came to Stanford as a medical resident in 1954-55, spent five years as a research fellow at the University of Utah, and returned to Stanford as a faculty member in 1960.

As hospital medicine becomes increasingly technology-focused, I think his wisdom about the value of human contact is more important than ever.

While in Utah, Schwartz met an art student named Carolyn Jex. They married in 1957, had a son, Michael, and twin daughters, Rebecca and Sara, and lived for 47 years in Palo Alto. Schwartz was known for riding his bicycle to work, favoring plaid shirts over white coats and playing tennis with a group of faculty led by Sunshine, who dubbed them the SWAT team, for Sunshine’s Wednesday Afternoon Tennis. Schwartz also loved to play the cello and was enthusiastic about his wife’s career as an artist. “They had this really wonderful relationship,” Sunshine said. “He was always so proud of her accomplishments.”

Schwartz retired in 1991, after working with his colleagues in the Department of Pediatrics to plan and open Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, which welcomed its first patients that year. He and his wife moved to Gardnerville, Nevada, in 2007 to be closer to their son. Together, they took cruises all over the world, supported local orchestras, and enjoyed the company of their children and grandchildren. They were married for 56 years. She died in 2013.

He is survived by their three children: Michael Schwartz of Incline Village, Nevada; Rebecca Chamberlain of Solana Beach, California; and Sara Heller of Kentfield, California, who is a nurse coordinator at Stanford Children’s Health in pediatric hematology/oncology. Schwartz is also survived by 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Donations in his memory can be made to Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at www.supportlpch.org.

About Stanford Medicine

Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.

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