Pediatric leaps and bounds
Artist Pnina Granirer signs copies of her book Light Within the Shadows: An Artist’s Memoir at its May 25 launch at Lord Byng High School. (photo by Cynthia Ramsay)
In every community, there are folks who frequently capture the spotlight for their work while others quietly get things done behind the scenes. In our Kibitz & Schmooze profile, we try to highlight members of our community who are doing admirable and mention-worthy work out of view of the general public. If you know of profile subjects who fit this description, please email [email protected].
We all love a quick turnaround, but when it involves a transition from illness to health, it’s especially meaningful. That’s one of the things Erik Swartz loves about his career as a pediatrician at Richmond Hospital, where he attends complicated deliveries, looks after preemies in the neonatal intensive care unit and sees outpatients at the Child Health Centre. “Children get sick very quickly, but they also recover very quickly,” he notes quietly. “It’s very gratifying, as a doctor, to see how quickly their health improves.”
Swartz, 43, is a homegrown Vancouverite who attended Vancouver Talmud Torah, Eric Hamber Secondary and then studied pharmacology and medicine at the University of British Columbia. After graduating, he specialized in pediatrics in Edmonton and worked in that city until 2008.
It was a great time, he recalls wistfully. “Our friends there were like family, and the training I got there, the professional environment, was wonderful.”
Swartz, always one to say an enthusiastic “yes!” when opportunity comes a-knocking, also had a weekly segment on Edmonton’s Global Morning News, where he’d answer questions from parents worried about their kids’ health. “For awhile, I was a C-list celebrity,” he says with a laugh.
Family ties and a great job opportunity enticed him back to Vancouver, where he remains today with his wife and two daughters. At work, he wears a number of different hats. When he’s not at Richmond Hospital, you’ll find him at B.C. Children’s, where he works in the pediatric emergency department and attends inpatients at the clinical teaching units. He also heads pediatrics for Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care, a position that involves overseeing physicians in a wide geographic area – from Lions Gate and St. Paul’s hospitals to clinics further afield in Powell River and Bella Coola. “If a child comes into a hospital in Sechelt and there are issues, we troubleshoot what happened from an administrative point of view,” he explains.
There are “big picture” guys and “small picture” guys in every field, but Swartz is both. He helped bring the Pediatric Early Warning System, PEWS, to the Richmond Hospital emergency room a few years ago. Children admitted to the hospital receive a PEWS score, which determines the level of monitoring and care they’ll need. “It’s our attempt at figuring out which children are going to deteriorate before that happens, so we can mitigate the risk,” he explains. Swartz and his team were the first to use PEWS successfully in an ER setting in British Columbia and, possibly, in all of Canada.
“In a hospital that is not used to looking after many children, the PEWS score is a number that clearly identifies how sick that kid is,” he notes. “We assessed the confidence and knowledge levels of staff before we introduced PEWS and reassessed them after its introduction and, by comparing those results, we can see it’s been a wild success. Because of that, the whole province is wanting to introduce it.”
Swartz’s work is his passion, and his dedication to improving care on a systemic level is remarkable. He decompresses from his days training for half-marathons, but says his life is filled with “aha moments” that make everything seem purposeful and worthwhile. “I’m often called out in the middle of the night when a baby is born with a low heart rate and isn’t breathing,” he reflects. “To do the appropriate things in five to 10 minutes and see the improvements, you feel really satisfied that a few minutes of your life changed the trajectory of another family’s life forever.”
Lauren Kramer, an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.
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