All Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids are special, but Andrew and Esther Schorr of Mercer Island can be allowed a little leeway in thinking their son, Eitan is even more special — in fact they call him their “miracle baby.”
In 1996 Andrew was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). At the time, the Schorrs had been thinking about having a third child, but knew chemotherapy drugs could cause infertility. Yet Andrew’s doctor at the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he later took part in clinical trials, suggested the cancer was slow-growing enough to put off treatment. When Esther told the doctor of their plan, “he gave her a big hug and said, ‘Go have your baby,’” says Andrew.
“And that’s the kid who stood on the bima last Saturday,” April 17, at Temple B’nai Torah.
“He did a great job, by the way,” added Dad. “It was a very life-affirming thing.”
In a little twist of irony or destiny, Andrew, who grew up in New York’s Westchester County, was already a medical journalist when he received his diagnosis. He holds journalism degrees from Columbia and the University of North Carolina, and had worked mostly in television, including for the groundbreaking “PM/Evening Magazine.”
He also assumed he didn’t have much time to live. Diagnosed around the same time as Seattle School District Superintendent John Stanford, he was horrified at how quickly Stanford died.
“To me that was leukemia,” he says. “Strong guy, do not pass go, you’re dead.”
However, Andrew got a more favorable diagnosis, allowing him to forgo treatment until 2000 when the cancer began to affect his immune system.
His illness catapulted his work in a different direction. He started doing a Sunday morning radio show on KVI on different health topics.
“Soon it became apparent to me that its home base should be on the Internet,” he says.
Internet use at the time was low, but growing.
“Now the typical person, especially the typical Jewish person, will look for health information online,” Andrew adds.
Five years ago he started Patient Power — www.patientpower.info — and he still does occasional programming, sponsored by the University of Washington, on KOMO radio during drive time. He estimates those segments reach about 100,000 people a day, but 2.2 million people went to Patient Power last year, to hear audio shows or watch short videos narrated by Andrew and Peter Frishauf, featuring a variety of medical experts.
The Schorrs live on Mercer Island, where he runs his small business.
“It’s much less a business and much more a passion,” he says. “We zap audio and video files,” plus provide content to hospital Web sites, including the UW and Harborview. Sixty percent of the content is cancer-oriented, with a variety of other subjects covered, “connecting the most remote patient with the smartest doctors,” says Andrew.
And just to show the pace of research, the experimental drug combination Andrew had in 2000 in Houston has only just been approved by the FDA.
Meanwhile, he knows he is blessed to have been in remission and lead a normal life for the past 10 years. He enjoys Boy Scout outings with Eitan and running with their dog, Candy. He goes to the gym almost every day with Esther, “a terrific lady,” who works for Microsoft. Their oldest son, Ari, 20, is at the University of Michigan and middle daughter Ruth is a junior at Mercer Island High School.
It’s been quite a different type of job for Karen Portman, who took over running The Beat — the Stroum Jewish Community Center’s cardiac rehabilitation program — from Kathy Hutchinson in 2008. The career R.N. has worked in cardiology nursing for 32 years — including teaching for a decade — and was running clinical trials before she came to the J.
The Beat is a stage four rehab program (stage one begins when patients are still in the hospital). It is a guided fitness program incorporating aerobic exercise, strength training, stretching and relaxation into a one-hour class up to three times a week.
“When you start the program, I do a nursing history and physical,” explains the Temple B’nai Torah member, who adds that patients’ cardiologists provide background information about their health and any limitations clients might have (with HIPAA guidelines followed).
Blood pressure and heart rate are checked before each class.
“Everyone has an exercise log, so everything is recorded,” Karen says. It’s “a safe environment for people to come work out.”
It’s not only fun, but clients get to see the positive effect of exercise over time as their heart rates and blood pressures fall, and learn “more about their body and what they can tolerate.” Karen reports progress to their doctors, which helps physicians make adjustments to medication and activity recommendations.
“Plus the camaraderie,” she says of her clients. “They just love each other.”
Karen grew up in Cleveland and she and her husband, Dr. Michael Portman, a pediatric cardiologist at Seattle Children’s, have lived on Mercer Island for 18 years. When I ask what she does for fun, she says, “This job is really fun for me.” She likes the short commute, too, and the community feel of the J.
“The people are really appreciative and have such a good time. Some are more confident, have more strength, and are staying healthy.”
The Beat is open to non-members (and non-Jews, too!). For information visit www.sjcc.org under “Health, Fitness and Wellness,” or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-388-0828.