“A dedicated and compassionate caregiver at St. Joseph Hospital for decades, Melvin Schwartz and his wife demonstrated their friendship and support for the Hospital by establishing a legacy through a generous charitable planned gift.”
Dr. Samuel Wirtschafter
Beloved gastroenterologist leaves legacy to benefit medical center for generations.
Though he left this world in May of 2020, Dr. Samuel Wirtschafter established a profound legacy at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center, San Pedro that lives on to this day. Known to his friends and family as Sam, he was a beloved presence at San Pedro’s sole hospital, where he took an active role in building it into a world-class medical center.
Dr. Wirtschafter’s love of learning and genuine care for the people in his community informed the remarkable effect he had on our medical center over the years. Through a generous estate gift that is now benefiting the medical center, Dr. Wirtschafter has ensured that the impact he had over more than four decades of caregiving will carry on well into the future.
Dr. Wirtschafter received his MD from USC in 1957 (graduating second in his class), and also received his PhD from the UCLA Department of Biology while in medical school. He was in his final year of medical school when he met his lifelong friend and colleague Dr. Milford Wyman.
Dr. Wyman opened the first cardiology/internal medicine practice in San Pedro in 1959. When Dr. Wirtschafter completed a fellowship in gastroenterology in 1961, Dr. Wyman invited him to join as a partner in the practice. Both of them were immediately affiliated with what was then San Pedro Peninsula Hospital, and became a driving force in the hospital’s growth and evolution for decades to come.
Dr. Wirtschafter founded the hospital’s gastroenterology program. He was involved in major administrative decisions for the hospital as the head of the Gastroenterology Department, the chief of the department of Internal Medicine and eventually as a member of the hospital’s board of directors.
Dr. Wirtschafter was a pioneer in finding minimally invasive ways to treat patients. With the establishment of the Outpatient Surgery Department, he introduced the San Pedro community to the performance of outpatient colonoscopies and gastroendoscopies, taking biopsies as needed to detect early signs of cancer.
Throughout all of his postings and initiatives to elevate care at the hospital, Dr. Wirtschafter remained committed to treating a large community of patients, often devoting attention to them for years at a time. “He took very close and personal care of his patients,” said his colleague Dr. Phyllis Monroe, who met Dr. Wirtschafter in 1976. “He had a great reputation for being funny, wise and gentle.”
In addition to his work as a physician and hospital administrator, Dr. Wirtschafter was also a devoted educator. He taught medicine at USC from 1961 until his retirement, eventually becoming a full professor with a specialty in gastroenterology. Dr. Wirtschafter would frequently have medical students and young doctors from USC shadow him in his San Pedro practice for months at a time, helping them gain hands-on experience for full exposure to the nuances of the emerging gastroenterology field. He also served on several medical boards, volunteered at the Long Beach Free Clinic and worked with students from the South Central Scholars program.
In his free time, Dr. Wirtschafter loved to fish and was deeply interested in oceanography and marine biology. He even volunteered at the Marineland Aquarium, where he applied his knowledge of medicine and biology to seals, dolphins and whales — including saving Bubbles the whale by using a modified endoscope to remove a towel from her stomach that she swallowed.
Knowing his love of community, his friends Dr. Richard Ellis and USC professor Bill McClure joined with Dr. Wyman in forming a weekly Thursday morning breakfast group. They and others would meet for a lengthy morning meal and spirited conversation about life in medicine. “Sam loved to get together and discuss anything under the sun, within and beyond medicine,” said Dr. Monroe. “It was a real marker of his intellectual curiosity, and the deep care and interest he had for the people in his life.”
After his first wife passed away, he was able to enjoy many happy years with his second wife, Margo Miller. He passed away on May 26, 2020. He is survived by his son, David, David’s wife Dominique, and their twin daughters, Kauri and Ryan.
To ensure that his legacy endured, Dr. Wirtschafter worked with gift advisors at Providence Little Company of Mary Foundation to establish a significant gift that would benefit the hospital after his passing, in the form of proceeds directed out of his individual retirement account (IRA).
“He was really thoughtful about how he wanted to support the medical center and handle his estate plans in a strategic way,” said Joe Ward, executive director of planned giving for the Foundation.
As his friend and colleague Dr. Phyllis Monroe notes, “Sam’s legacy is a hospital and physicians who are deeply engaged in their community and devoted to elevating their practice.”
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