St. Mary’s honors a blood brother

Dale Schwarz has worked at St.Mary’s Hospital for 55-year.Here he is in the St. Mary’s Blood Bank.

If the Sisters of Charity had a blood brother, it would be Dale Schwartz.

For 55 of his 84 years, Schwartz helped care for thousands of patients at St. Mary’s Hospital, a member of the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth Health System.

The hospital last week honored Schwartz for his service as a lab technician and blood donor recruiter at an awards celebration, where nearly 300 of his colleagues also were recognized for their work.

“We make it a special evening, kind of a big deal,” said Mike McBride, St. Mary’s president and CEO. “But nothing could be big enough to truly thank those who dedicate their working lives helping others. We ask the community to join us in saying thank you.”

Schwartz, who downplayed the accolades, said his greatest reward over the years has been working with the hospital’s talented doctors and nurses.

At the top of that list would have to be Dr. Geno Saccomanno, who helped St. Mary’s establish the first pathology services on the Western Slope, Schwartz said.

It was Saccomanno who hired Schwartz in 1958 to work in the lab at St. Mary’s.

For a scientist with an extensive pedigree, Saccomanno was actually a very down-to-earth guy who harbored no pretenses, Schwartz said.

Saccomanno died in 1999. His research into the health effects of cigarette smoking and radon exposure in lung cancer, especially among uranium miners, led to numerous federally funded, internationally recognized research studies and the establishment of one of the largest lung cancer tissue banks in the world, according to St. Mary’s website.

“He was a very pleasant person. You’d think a learned man with a Ph.D. and an M.D. would be (a snob), but he was a delightful man,” Schwartz said.

Schwartz attended Union College in Nebraska to become a technician but never finished his degree. He thought about finishing and going on to medical school, but the money for him to do so was not available at the time, he said.

“That was my wish,” Schwartz told The Daily Sentinel in 1992, “but financially I wasn’t able to do it.”

In the beginning of Schwartz’ career, there were no computers or automated testing machines. Microscopes and test tubes were the tools of his trade.

He worked for decades as a phlebotomist and medical technologist in hematology, testing different blood counts for diseases such as leukemia. He also occasionally worked in other areas of the lab and, for a time, supervised the other technicians.

He perfected “the touch,” which allowed him to place patients at ease before finding a vein and drawing blood with as little pain as possible.

Not everybody has it, Schwartz said.

“Some people seem to have the touch,” he said. “I feel I did. You have to be caring. It’s not just a job. It’s about treating the individual with care.”

These days, Dale Schwartz works the phones at St. Mary’s Regional Blood Center, which gathers, stores and distributes most of the blood used by health care centers on the Western Slope.

Volunteer donors are Americans’ only source of blood and Schwartz calls them regularly to remind them to come in and donate.

Blood doesn’t last forever — only five to six weeks. That’s why the center needs a constant supply to be sure it’s ready when a patient needs it.

Schwartz said he and his colleagues will continue to make sure the supply continues to flow.

Schwartz told The Daily Sentinel 23 years ago that he had no plans to retire anytime soon, mainly because he enjoyed his job so much. He said he feels the same way today.

His love for the job may have influenced the career decisions of one of his two sons, Joseph. Joseph Schwartz works in St. Mary’s cytology lab today, where he tests samples for different cancer cells, the proud father said.


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