She Celebrates 85 Years, With Doctors Who Helped Her Get There
There were several times during the journey to her 85th birthday that Mary Ellen Andrews seemed unlikely to make it. “I’ve gone through the mill,” she says, citing a few touch-and-go moments during her many surgical and medical procedures over the years.
So when she threw herself a big birthday bash on Oct. 25 – inviting more than 100 relatives and friends to festivities at a catering hall, with music, speeches, dancing and lots of food – she also invited the three doctors who helped her reach the milestone.
And they all accepted the invitation.
“The tears were coming down my face,” Andrews says of the moment she greeted Dr. Christian F. Witzke and Dr. Rashad Choudry, both of Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, and Dr. Peter Fumo, a nephrologist whose private practice is affiliated with Einstein.
“It was such an honor for them to be there – they took time out of their busy schedule to come be with me,” Andrews says. “They’re not just anybody. They’re doctors. I call them my ministering angels. They’re so dear to me.”
“She calls us the holy trinity,” says Dr. Witzke, an interventional cardiologist who’s done several procedures on Andrews over the last eight years. “She is a very genuine, lovely and funny person.”
Andrews’ multiple medical problems – kidney disease, heart disease, coronary artery disease and diabetes among them – put her at high risk for complications every time she has a procedure.
“I’ve been so sick and at death’s door so many times, my brother calls me the cat lady because a cat has nine lives,” she says.
All the more reason to celebrate her milestone birthday with friends and family, some of whom came from North Carolina, South Carolina and New York. And thanks to Dr. Choudry, chair of Einstein’s Department of Vascular Surgery – who recently performed an emergency procedure to restore blood flow in Andrews’ legs and avoid amputation – she was able to do her favorite dance, the Electric Slide, at her party.
Although Andrews has required “countless hospitalizations,” Dr. Choudry says, she’s kept her upbeat, effusive and joyful outlook. “She’s a relic in my opinion, so resilient in terms of her attitude and completely medically compliant. She takes everything so seriously to try to prevent problems and it’s our obligation to keep her going.”
Dr. Fumo has supervised Andrews’ dialysis for 10 years, five more than she could have been expected to survive given her medical history.
“When a patient is on dialysis, you see them once a week. At this point, she’s almost like a member of my family,” he says. “She’s a wonderful patient and a wonderful human being.”
Andrews worked for 27 years as an assembler at the pharmaceutical company then known as Merck Sharp & Dohme. She retired early, at the age of 62, so she and her husband could raise a niece’s two children. “Our parents brought us up that when one of us is in trouble, everybody is in trouble and you’ve got to help each other. That’s the pattern I kept.”
Andrews loves to travel to visit relatives and attend religious conventions, sings in her church choir, and crochets; she made a blanket for a grandchild of Dr. Choudry’s nurse.
It’s unusual for a patient to invite his or her doctor to a private party and even more unusual for the doctor to accept.
“In medicine, you’re taught and trained to keep a professional distance,” Choudry says. “You don’t often get invited to a patient’s personal event with children and grandchildren.” On a rare occasion, he and Dr. Witzke says, they’ve attended a patient’s party, but only because there was a previous personal connection with the patient’s friend or family.
“But when it comes from someone as sweet as Mary Ellen, it would be very difficult to say no,” Dr. Choudry says.
Andrews was thrilled that the docs who helped her live to celebrate her 85th birthday took time to come to her party. “When I saw the doctors, that was it,” she says. “They made my day.”
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Photo caption: (Left to right) Dr. Rashad Choudry; Dr. Peter Fumo; Mary Ellen Andrews; Dr. Christian Witzke