Just before the beginning of the spring semester, a group of friends, five medical students from Washington University in St. Louis, decided to visit Chicago over the long Presidents’ Day weekend. They took in the sights and sounds of the great city and celebrated a birthday.
The weather was chilly that weekend, but not overly cold; however, late Sunday a Canadian front moved through and temperatures dropped. A misty precipitation began icing the roads, and freezing rain fell over much of the region on Monday, catching many drivers unaware.
On the way back to the university, in Logan County, Illinois, the SUV in which the students were traveling hit a treacherous slick of black ice on Interstate 55, careened off the road and rolled over six times before stopping in a field. Two of the students were killed instantly, a third died a day later in the hospital and the two others sustained injuries but survived.
The driver that fateful day was Stanley Chan, son of Benito Chan, MD. The Chans were grateful that Stanley was one of the two survivors, but nonetheless, experienced an unshakable sense of grief and a profound sympathy for the other individuals involved as well as for their families.
“It was a miracle our son survived,” says Dr. Chan, “but we felt so sad for the others; for the loss of their children, for the loss of such promising medical students. The whole incident changed our lives, forever.”
But this is only the beginning of the story. The second part involves a relationship and eventual friendship of two doctors. Back in 1993, Stephen Bartlett, MD, the Barbara Baur Dunlap Professor and chair of the Department of Surgery at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of Surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center, had been appointed head of the newly formed Kidney Transplant Division at the University of Maryland. At the time, the University of Maryland had only a handful of patients waiting for kidney transplants and it seemed it would be difficult competing with Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Dr. Bartlett had heard of Dr. Chan, who was running two bustling dialysis units on the Eastern Shore, and referring patients to Johns Hopkins. Dr. Bartlett decided to visit Dr. Chan in hopes of reaching out to more patients. Coincidentally, Dr. Bartlett grew up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and it just seemed to be a natural match.
“Dr. Bartlett came all the way to the Eastern Shore to see us,” Dr. Chan recalls. “After our meeting, we decided to begin referring patients to the University of Maryland as well as Johns Hopkins.” Within five years time, the number of transplants performed at the University of Maryland had risen exponentially and was close to 1,000 per year. And as the transplant program grew to become one of the largest and most successful in the world, so too did Dr. Chan’s clinic grow to become the largest dialysis facility on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
“Dr. Bartlett is a good man and a great doctor. Over the years we became great friends,” says Dr. Chan. But still the tragedy of the accident haunted Dr. Chan and his family. “Even after all this time, we could not get the deaths of the young medical students out of our minds,” says Dr. Chan. “We felt we wanted to do something, but did not know what to do.”
“One day last year, Dr. Bartlett came to the Eastern Shore again to discuss and present his vision for the Department of Surgery. There was a big celebration and a fundraising event planned, and many alumni were invited,” recalls Dr. Chan. “He also invited my wife and me, although neither of us attended the School of Medicine. We were honored.”
“It was Dr. Bartlett who brought up the idea of a gift to the School of Medicine,” says Dr. Chan. “I discussed the gift with my wife. The University of Maryland had been good to us, and Dr. Bartlett had been good to us. We decided it was the right thing to do and perhaps the answer we had been searching for. This was how we could help young medical students, and in some way give something back and make up for that tragic loss.”
The Chans’ generous gift will be used to support scholarships for first- and second-year medical students at the School of Medicine. When the Chans’ second son was ready to apply to medical school, “we wanted him to stay closer to home,” says Dr. Chan, “and we were delighted when he was accepted by the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The school has come a long way over the past decade.” Mark Chan is now in his second year and Stanley is currently a resident in radiology in St. Louis.