Hill physician celebrated with hospital unit named in her honor

by Len Lear
Posted 2/9/23

The palliative care unit at Chestnut Hill Hospital will soon have a new name: the Susan Bray Palliative Care unit.

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Hill physician celebrated with hospital unit named in her honor


The palliative care unit at Chestnut Hill Hospital will soon have a new name: the Susan Bray Palliative Care unit.

No doubt some people will wonder why this part of the hospital, which was started in 2011 to help chronic disease patients with pain management, is now going to be named after a radio talk show host.

“All the time people ask me about her,” Dr. Susan Bray said about her namesake, Susan Bray, the former radio talk show host. “We are not related. I tell people that I am not a radio talk show host. I say I spend all my time caring for patients. She is originally from Australia. I did meet her once at a Halloween party at her house. I called later and asked if she would interview me on the need for kidney transplants. She said no. Her loss.”

(The “other” Susan Bray was a very well known Philadelphia radio personality for many years who would interview celebrities and public figures on WWDB-FM 96.5 in Philly and on C-Span. Known affectionately as the “Saucy Aussie” because of her sometimes-tough questions, she died at age 79 on Jan. 14, 2022.)

Chestnut Hill Hospital’s Susan Bray was born in Oak Park, Ill., but moved here with her family at a young age. She attended Mount St. Joseph Academy in Flourtown, Ursinus College (“a great school” in Collegeville) and Women's Medical College in East Falls, where she was part of the school's last all-female class. “I loved every minute of medical school,” she said.

For 35 years, Bray specialized in nephrology, focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of kidney diseases. “I do miss my patients,” Bray said. “We taught them how to do their own dialysis, to set up the machines and put in the needles. Most do get kidneys eventually, but 20 to 25 percent of dialysis patients would die before getting one. We tried to get them a good match for their DNA, but there are not enough kidneys for those who need them.”

Dr. John Scanlon, chief medical officer for Temple Health/Chestnut Hill Hospital, told us, “Dr. Susan Bray is one of the giants in the history of Chestnut Hill Hospital. She has been a clinician, administrator, teacher and friend to many during her almost 50-year tenure at CHH. She was a trailblazer with regards to gender equity, being the first female president of the medical staff in the late 1980s. She was also the first female chief of the department of nephrology – I am proud to say that she is one of the physician leaders 'on whose shoulders I stand.'”

Twenty years ago, Bray, who said she has to “recreate myself” after every so many years, went back to school for two years for a master's degree in bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, studying under Arthur Caplan, a frequent CNN contributor. In the process, she also developed an interest in palliative care.  

And in the first decade of this century, Bray started an effort to get Hahnemann Hospital and Chestnut Hill Hospital to establish palliative care units, which previously did not exist. The one at Chestnut Hill Hospital opened in September 2011, shortly after the one at Hahnemann Hospital. Unlike hospice care, palliative care manages the pain of end-stage disease while also permitting patients to consult with specialists for ongoing treatment.

Bray, who is still working part-time two days a week and plans to start volunteering two or three days a week, has had her own medical issues. Recently, she spent eight weeks as a patient at Chestnut Hill Hospital with sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body's response to an infection damages its own tissues. 

“They did a beautiful job of caring for me,” she said. “Chestnut Hill Hospital is excellent. I needed intravenous fluids, antibiotics and blood cultures. I am much better now.”

Bray, who lived in Wyndmoor for 32 years, on Highland Avenue in Chestnut Hill for 16 years and then at the Hill House at the top of the Hill for two years (“I love it here,” she said), was asked her opinion of the recent takeover of Chestnut Hill Hospital by an alliance of Temple Health and other partners. “It will be a good thing,” she said. “It will bring in academic interests, which we can use.”

Regarding the palliative unit being named for her, Bray said, “I am very honored, but I really feel unworthy of this honor. But if it brings palliative care to the forefront, I'll jump in with both feet. Cathy (Brzozowski, marketing director at Chestnut Hill Hospital) came to my hospital room and said they wanted to name it after me. I was in a fog.”

Dr. Peter Fumo, a former partner in Bray's medical practice, has worked with and known Bray since 1994. 

“Susan was a pioneer in nephrology, both as one of the first women and also as one of first to set up self-care dialysis, which has had remarkable outcomes,” he said. “She is a remarkable physician, partner and human being. It has been my absolute pleasure to have known and worked with her for these past 29 years.”

Thomas Lloyd, a friend of Bray’s through the Rotary Club, said, “Susan is almost always one of the first to volunteer to help with one of our projects ... She certainly is one of the most civic-minded persons I have ever known.”

Bray has four children — Brian, 53, Gavin, 51, Tara, 48, and Brendan, 44 — and 14 grandchildren. “It is a wonderful family,” she said. “I could not ask for anything more. I am very proud of them.”

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com