By Crystal Hayduk
[This is the first story in the Willard H. Johnson Scholarship recipient series. Related story here: https://chelseaupdate.com/pay-it-forward-principle-21-years-and-counting-of-willard-h-johnson-scholarships/]
Mary Jarzebowski is living her childhood dream as a physician, working near the Chelsea community that supported her, and raising a family with her husband. At the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System (VAAAHS), she is an anesthesiologist, a researcher, and a teacher, whose work and life have been awry since the arrival of the global pandemic. “It is a privilege to serve our nation’s veterans, and the risk we face as healthcare workers pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by these men and women repeatedly for our country,” she said.
Mary, the daughter of Richard and Diane Howlin, was influenced by her physician-mother. “I grew up watching my mom practice in primary care and hospital medicine [in Chelsea],” she said. “Caring for people through the practice of medicine was just the normal thing that people did.”
Reflecting on her education in the Chelsea School District, Mary said, “The teachers at Chelsea High School were instrumental to everything I’ve done and this crazy path I’ve been on. I’m grateful for all of them.”
Several teachers stand out in her mind, including elementary teacher Beverly Peebles, who was “a favorite.”
At the high school level, three teachers directly influenced the person Mary is today. United States Government teacher, Mr. Bechtelheimer, taught students how to think rather than to memorize facts. Eric Swager challenged her to excellence in science, integral to her career on a daily basis. As a cellist, Jed Fritzemeier, orchestra teacher and founder of the Celtic group Chelsea House Orchestra (CHO), inspired her love for music. Mary enjoyed participating in the school orchestra and in CHO, and still plays as often as she can.
Mary received the Willard H. Johnson Scholarship upon high school graduation in 2002. The money helped fund her big adventure, attending the University of London. “I have dual citizenship, so going to London gave me a chance to spend time with my grandmother and extended family,” she said. “London provided a fantastic college experience in a big city.”
After earning her degree in biomedical science, she married David Jarzebowski, whom she had met when his family moved to Chelsea during their senior year of high school. “Both my father and David were from England. He went to college in England, too, and we maintained our relationship,” said Mary.
They moved to Chicago, where Mary entertained research work at Northwestern University. After a few years, the pull to practice medicine couldn’t be denied.
Following medical school at the University of Oxford in England, the couple returned to Chicago for a 6-year stay. Mary completed a residency in anesthesiology at Rush University Medical Center and a fellowship in critical care medicine at Northwestern University.
Mary worked at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit for a couple of years, then accepted her current position at the VAAAHS. “My husband and I are happy that things panned out and we can be in Ann Arbor, closer to where I grew up,” she said.
As a full-time physician, Mary teaches medical students who rotate through VAAAHS, and lectures at the University of Michigan. “I’m also researching how to make outcomes better for high-risk surgical patients who require intensive care,” she said. “I imagine it will be my life’s work to make progress because it’s such a huge area.”
When Mary’s not working, she spends time with their two “busy and growing” daughters, 8-year-old Alice and 4-year-old Lucy.
Mary had also recently started playing tennis again after a very long break. “I was never really good in high school,” she said. “It’s fun, but I’ll never be competitive.”
However, having time for fun was pre-pandemic.
Mary said it’s important for people to know that COVID-19 changed everything—for everyone.
“COVID-19 has been very difficult for our family,” she said. “I was working the COVID Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and helped to build a second COVID ICU for surge capacity, which we did use. With all the procedures I did on COVID positive patients, it was an uncertain time. I isolated myself from my husband and daughters for a few weeks.”
Mary considers her family blessed because David, who works in software product management, had already been working from home for three years, with monthly trips to New York or Chicago for meetings. “While I was at the hospital for 12 to 16 hours a day, he was like Superman, handling the girls and everything else.”
When the number of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 dropped in May, the hospital was able to close the second COVID ICU. Mary is back in the operating room.
“I’m relieved that our numbers are down, and I hope they stay that way,” she said [on June 24]. “We’re all bracing for the possibility of a second surge, but so far, we’re still doing surgery and pressing forward and anxiously watching.”
[Note: Dr. Jarzebowski’s article, “Parenting as an ICU Physician,” is a touching look at coping during COVID-19. Link – https://www.kevinmd.com/blog/2020/06/parenting-as-an-icu-physician.html.]