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Elias Schwartz, CHOP physician-in-chief, dies at 85

“He accomplished a lot and bettered the lives of many children,” said his wife. “Researchers came from all over the world to participate in studies in his lab.”

Elias Schwartz
Elias SchwartzRead moreCourtesy of the Schwartz family

Elias Schwartz, 85, a pediatric hematologist and former physician-in-chief of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, died Saturday, July 17, in his Center City home of renal failure.

Dr. Schwartz had a distinguished career in research as well as patient care.

Before serving as CHOP’s physician-in-chief from 1991 to 1997, he headed the hospital’s hematology division. Children and their parents traveled from many countries to benefit from his expertise. Some sickle cell anemia patients remained in his care for 40 years, said his son Sam.

“He accomplished a lot and bettered the lives of many children, said his wife, Esta. “Researchers came from all over the world to participate in studies in his lab.”

Earlier in his professional life, Dr. Schwartz was a professor of hematology and was on the pediatric staff of Thomas Jefferson University from 1967 to 1972. At the end of his career, from 1997 to 2000, Dr. Schwartz was a professor of pediatrics and a pediatric hematologist at Thomas Jefferson University’s duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington.

Dr. Schwartz was a member of numerous professional societies and served on the editorial boards of several medical journals. He published over 150 research papers and was editor of the textbook, Hemoglobinopathies in Children.

Within the local medical community, Dr. Schwartz was held in high regard, said Alan Cohen, a pediatric hematologist and former chair of CHOP and the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine’s departments of pediatrics.

“Eli’s limitless intellectual curiosity made him a superb scientist with a constant stream of novel ideas, and his compassion and commitment to his patients made him a physician who could translate those novel ideas into treatments that improved the lives of thousands of children and adults throughout the world with sickle cell disease, thalassemia and other blood disorders,” Dr. Cohen said.

“These qualities, along with his innate humility, also made Eli a treasured colleague, teacher, mentor and leader at CHOP and Penn,” he added.

Dr. Schwartz grew up above a laundromat in Brooklyn, the only child of Russian immigrants. His father, Rubin, was an engineer, and his mother, Dusha Premysler Schwartz, was a hospital pharmacist.

After graduating from Erasmus Hall High School in Flatbush, he earned a bachelor’s and a medical degree from Columbia University and interned at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. While living in New York City, he met Brooklyn college student Esta Rosenberg. They married in 1960.

Dr. Schwartz completed a pediatric residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia. Then he served in the Air Force from 1963 to 1965 at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Neb., caring for the children of military personnel.

He then went on to complete an internship in hematology at Boston Children’s Hospital.

As passionate as Dr. Schwartz was about medicine and his patients, he was also a man of many interests.

As a child, he studied classical piano and later became a jazz aficionado. For more than a decade after his retirement, he taught courses on jazz and film at Temple University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

He had other pursuits as well. For Dr. Schwartz’s funeral, son Rob compiled a three-page list of his father’s interests including tennis, ping pong, camping, travel, wine, woodworking — he once made a harpsichord from a kit — photography, hiking, playing the recorder, piano, and more.

Dr. Schwartz was also devoted to his wife of 61 years, his sons and his grandchildren who called him “Pops,” and to his patients from all over the world.

“He was the definition of a mensch,” said his son Rob.

In addition to his wife and his sons, Dr. Schwartz is also survived by six grandchildren and other relatives.

A funeral and burial were held July 18 at West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Bala Cynwyd.

Donations in Dr. Schwartz’s memory may be made to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – Division of Hematology, 3401 Civic Center Blvd., Philadelphia, Pa., 19104.