Dr. Seymour Schwartz, an eminent surgeon and prolific polymath who was the founding editor of the 1,800-page surgery textbook, first published in 1969, that became a bible for medical students, died on Aug. 28 in St. Louis. He was 92.
Dr. Schwartz died at the home of his son Dr. David Schwartz, whom he was visiting, according to another son, Richard Schwartz. He lived in Pittsfield, N.Y., near Rochester, and had been affiliated with the University of Rochester since 1950.
A world-renowned practitioner, researcher, scholar, author and spokesman for his profession, Dr. Schwartz was elected president of the Society of Clinical Surgery in 1985, the American Surgical Association in 1993 and the American College of Surgeons in 1997.
He also edited the journal Contemporary Surgery for 28 years, the Yearbook of Surgery for 22 years and the Journal of the American College of Surgeons for 10 years.
His name became synonymous with surgery when his five fellow editors of the original “Principles of Surgery,” a seminal textbook published by McGraw Hill in 1969, voted him editor in chief.
Dr. Schwartz also edited the next seven editions of the textbook, which was later branded “Schwartz’s Principles of Surgery.” The 11th edition was published last year.
“The ‘science of surgery’ has gained dominance over the ‘art of surgery,’” he wrote in the foreword to the latest edition, acknowledging the transformative changes in medical treatments. “It is as if today’s surgeons have adopted a new language, new rules, new protocols — and anticipate new outcomes.”
Dr. Schwartz retired as a practicing surgeon when he turned 72, but he continued to teach, write and lecture. He also became a serious student of cartography after his wife, Dr. Ruth Schwartz, a prominent obstetrician and gynecologist, decided he needed a hobby to distract him from medicine and bought him a used book of maps for 50 cents.
“Sy is the aspirational mentor that we all want to emulate,” said Dr. David Linehan, chairman of the surgery department at the University of Rochester Medical Center, who also holds the title Seymour I. Schwartz professor of surgery. Dr. Linehan praised Dr. Schwartz for “his towering intellect, spirit of collegiality, indefatigable work ethic, unending curiosity and enduring relevance.”
Dr. Craig R. Smith, the chairman of the surgery department at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, recalled Dr. Schwartz’s “insatiable intellectual curiosity” and called him “a polymath of the first order” who was “much, much more than just another academic surgeon.”
Seymour Ira Schwartz was born on Jan. 22, 1928, in the Bronx, to parents from Jewish immigrant families. His father, Dr. Samuel Schwartz, was a physician who taught anatomy at Polyclinic Hospital in Manhattan and whose family was from what is now Belarus. His mother was Martha (Yampolsky) Schwartz, who managed her husband’s medical practice and whose parents were from Poland.
A gifted actor in student productions at DeWitt Clinton High School, Sy was encouraged by his father to pursue a theatrical career, but decided to become a surgeon instead. Accepted by Yale but unable to afford the tuition, he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin on a scholarship and completed his pre-med degree in two years.
He began medical school at Syracuse University, earned his degree from New York University and, in 1950, completed his internship at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
In the 1960s, while serving on the University of Rochester’s admissions committee, he was appalled to learn that a highly qualified candidate was being rejected because he was Jewish. Dr. Schwartz inquired how he, a Jew from New York, had been admitted and was told that school officials had mistaken him for Sidney Schwartz, a young tennis star from Brooklyn.
After a brief stint with the Navy, he returned to Rochester, where he was named a surgery instructor at Strong Memorial Hospital in 1957. He became a professor of surgery a decade later and then the director of surgical research.
He was a pioneer in treating bleeding esophageal veins intravenously with the hormone vasopressin, and he shared a patent for an electrical nerve stimulater, implantable in the body, to control blood pressure and treat hypertension.
From 1987 to 1998, he was chairman of the university’s surgery department.
In addition to his sons David and Richard, he is survived by another son, Kenneth; a sister, Lynn Rosen; five grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and his companion, Lyn Kayser. His wife died in 1999.
Though he pursued numerous passions outside surgery — he wrote books on the history of medicine and cartography, played the accordion and collected rare maps — Dr. Schwartz was proudest of his medical career.
“I was happiest in the operating room,” he told The Democrat and Chronicle of Rochester in 2018. “I have ego. And I felt I could operate as well, if not better than, most of the surgeons I was around.”
In 2017, the American College of Surgeons honored him as an Icon of Surgery.
“I went to public school,” he said when he received his award. “And I was informed from very early that the only way I could succeed in life was by doing better than other people in my studies.”