UW Medicine pathology professor dies from COVID-19

Seattle’s UW Medicine said a longtime faculty member died from COVID-19.

Dr. Stephen Schwartz, a professor in the University of Washington’s pathology department, died on Thursday after being hospitalized for COVID-19, according to a remembrance by Dr. Paul Ramsey, CEO of UW Medicine. Schwartz, who was not involved in patient care, was 78.

“There is no way to summarize a person as complex as Steve, but I’ll say this: I have never met a person with a finer mind, a greater passion for ideas, or who had a greater love for science,” Dr. Chuck Murry, a fellow pathology professor at UW Medicine, wrote on a remembrance page for Schwartz hosted by the North American Vascular Biology Organization, which Schwartz co-founded.

Washington state has been particularly hard hit by the novel coronavirus. As of Thursday afternoon, the state’s health department had recorded 1,376 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 74 deaths. In King County, which includes Seattle, nearly 700 people in had tested positive for COVID-19, and 60 had died from the virus.

A UW Medicine spokeswoman did not respond when asked whether Schwartz was the first COVID-19 death among UW Medicine’s employees and students.

Schwartz had been a member of UW’s pathology department since 1967, first as a resident, then as a postdoctoral trainee, an assistant professor in 1973 and full professor in 1984. He also served as an adjunct professor in the university’s bioengineering and medicine departments. Schwartz earned an undergraduate degree in biology from Harvard University in 1963 and a medical degree from Boston University in 1967.

Ramsey wrote that Schwartz was a “distinguished” vascular biology investigator.

“He is rightfully considered a giant among investigators of the biology of smooth muscle cells and the structure of blood vessels,” Ramsey wrote.

Schwartz’s last academic paper appeared Feb. 28 in the Journal of Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases. It found that racial minorities with atrial fibrillation and stroke risk were less likely to receive any oral anticoagulant therapy compared to whites, even after accounting for insurance status, income and stroke risk factors.

Remembrances posted on the NAVBO page describe Schwartz as outspoken, provocative and passionate about his work and politics.

“He was a scientific provocateur and seemed to relish the role,” wrote Chris Hughes, a molecular biology and biochemistry professor at the University of California, Irvine. “Steve could be insightful, stubborn, right and wrong, often in the space of a couple of sentences, but it was always worth listening to him and engaging with him.”

Over the years, Schwartz was a mentor to generations of scientists. For more than four decades, he directed a vascular biology training program at the University of Washington supported by the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Those who knew Schwartz recalled his generosity when it came to sharing scientific wisdom.

“He was passionate, relentless, and completely immersed,” wrote Dr. Mark Kahn, a professor in the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. “He cared most about training the future generation of scientists and dedicated himself unselfishly to that.”

Schwartz was named as an established investigator of the American Heart Association, founding chair of the Gordon Research Conference on vascular biology and North American Vascular Biology Organization co-founder. He also chaired numerous national and international meetings centered around vascular biology.

“Schwartz has left a lasting imprint on the UW School of Medicine and the broader scientific community,” Ramsey wrote. “He will be greatly missed.”