From journalism to medicine for Hill cardiologist

by Len Lear
Posted 7/9/21

Growing up in Delaware, Stephen M. Chrzanowski was always a good writer but did not fare particularly well in science courses, so it was no surprise that after graduating from the University of Delaware he pursued a master's degree at the University of Maryland in journalism.

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From journalism to medicine for Hill cardiologist

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Growing up in Delaware, Stephen M. Chrzanowski was always a good writer but did not fare particularly well in science courses, so it was no surprise that after graduating from the University of Delaware he pursued a master's degree at the University of Maryland in journalism. He finished the coursework and the master's thesis, but before finishing the last requirements for the master's, he was offered a full-time job as a reporter for his hometown paper, the Wilmington News-Journal.

Now 58, the 6-foot-5 reporter who “was never very good at basketball” had already done internships for the highly esteemed Knight-Ridder Newspapers in Washington, D.C., and a magazine in the Hamptons. At the Wilmington News-Journal he was a general assignment reporter but mostly covered politics. He also did some investigative reporting and took part in a collaborative program with USA Today,

“I loved it,” said Chrzanowski. “Writing came naturally to me, although as someone once said, ‘Writing is a wonderful way to make a substandard living …’ But I always thought there was something else I wanted to do. I said to myself, 'What is it that you really want to do?' Maturity is different at age 30 than at age 18. So I started taking science courses at night at the University of Delaware while still working at the newspaper by day.

“My dad was a doctor, general practice. I watched my dad and saw how much respect he had in the community. I thought that must be pretty cool. As I mentioned, my science grades as an undergraduate were not great, but at age 30 they were much better. Also, when you are spending your own money for courses, it makes a difference.”

Chrzanowski, whose dad was Polish and mom was Irish, got A's and B's in his night courses. It took almost three years to finish the required pre-med courses (“it seemed to take forever”), whereupon Stephen applied to 20 medical schools on the East Coast with no luck.

Then he applied to Jefferson Medical School. He was married at the time, but his first wife, Terry, died at age 34 in 1997. “I was on the verge of giving up. The deadline for applications to Jeff closed in November. I was one month late. I said in my statement to Jeff that I know something about taking care of a sick patient, referring to my late wife. I did not think I had a chance, but a woman called and said I was put on the 'wait list.' Then there was a phone message from Ben Bacharach, dean of admissions: 'How'd you like to come to Jeff?'

“I was very fortunate. I met some people before Jeff who were helpful. A health reporter at the News Journal knew people on the medical advisory board in Delaware. I contacted 13 of them. One, Dr. McKuen, head of pediatric orthopedic surgery at A.I. Dupont Hospital, let me hang out with him. Another doctor, Lee Whitney, a friend of my dad's, was very helpful.”

Chrzanowski graduated from Jeff in 2002, followed by seven years of internship and residency. “At first I wanted to do primary care, like my dad (who died in 1989). But I went to Christiana Hospital (in Newark, Delaware) after Jeff and was bitten by the cardiology bug. I worked in intensive care with heart transplant and heart failure patients. It was all worth it. I put in 60 to 80 hours a week now, but if you really love what you do, it is not work.

“I am amazed as a heart failure specialist that a patient can be barely alive and after treatment be up and standing and healthy enough to walk out of here and go home. That is the real payoff. It's such a great feeling!”

Steve, whose title is Medical Director, Ventricular Assist Device Program and Co-director, Dyspnea Program at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center, has taken care of Covid patients in the hospital. “Probably one of the toughest parts has been seeing patients and their families have to say goodbye to each other over a phone or iPad because the patients were in strict isolation,” he said. “Unfortunately, so many are not getting vaccinated because they’ve heard misinformation about the safety of the vaccine … I don’t know of anyone who has suffered any significant or long-lasting effects from the vaccine, but I know plenty that the virus has killed.”

Chrzanowski and his wife, Karen, a native New Yorker, have lived in Chestnut Hill for 12 years, first on Highland Avenue and now on Rex Avenue. Karen, an OB/Gyn at Abington Hospital, and Steve met on their first day of medical school. “She helped me get through med school,” Steve said. “We decided to live in Chestnut Hill because it was a mid-point between Abington and Penn Hospitals. We fell in love with Chestnut Hill.”

The couple has two children — Kate, 14, a student at Abington Friends School, and Matthew, 11, a student at Fusion Academy in Abington.

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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