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Each summer, BWH welcomes a distinguished and diverse group of new residents to its training programs. This year, two of those residents, Cheri Blauwet, MD, and Georg Gerber, MD, PhD, share their unique experiences, backgrounds and talents with BWH Bulletin.
For years, Cheri Blauwet, MD, has served as a symbol of empowerment to people with disabilities as she set racing records in the Paralympics. Now, the Paralympic gold medalist and two-time Boston Marathon champ is excited to begin her next chapter here at BWH, training to be a physician who empowers people with injuries and disabilities to reach their full potential.
“I thought of medicine as a career early on because of my exposure to health care as a kid,” said Blauwet, who sustained a spinal cord injury at age one during an accident on her family farm. “I enjoy life sciences, but I also enjoy the other aspect of medicine: interacting with people.”
Blauwet will train in Internal Medicine at BWH this year and continue at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital for the next three years of her residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
“I’m really excited to be in a place where people are so passionate about making the world a better place,” she said. “I thrive being among people inspired by what they do, and that really stood out to me during my interviews here.”
Blauwet has been inspiring others for years as she excels academically, sets international racing records and lives up to her personal mantra, “No Brakes.”
“It’s a slogan I use to define my message,” said Blauwet, an Iowa native who has been in a wheelchair most of her life. “First, we as individuals with a disability do not request brakes, or unnecessary restrictions, placed upon us without our request. Second, we do not need ‘breaks’ in life, or to have expectations of our capabilities lowered.”
Blauwet brought that message and her compassion abroad during her last year of Stanford University School of Medicine. In Kampala, Uganda, she developed and adapted a sports league for kids with disabilities to run parallel to a league for able-bodied children. “Kids who participated felt they had an opportunity to show others what they could achieve,” she recalled. “They have so many abilities—they just needed a place to show them off.”
Blauwet’s own athletic abilities earned her international recognition as a gold medalist in the 2004 Athens Paralympic Games in the 800-meter race. She has won eight marathons in the U.S. since 2003, including New York City, Los Angeles and Boston, and she has received numerous awards for sportsmanship and athletic ability.
She knows her training as a physician will be every bit as intense as her athletic training.
“My fellow residents, program directors and advisors are some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met,” said Blauwet. “I’m thrilled for this opportunity to be at one of the best hospitals in the world.”
Georg Gerber’s long-standing interest in computer science has opened many doors for him.
In the 1990s, his computer skills led him to start his own business, a company that provided 3-D graphic technology to gaming, film and online industries. And now, as a first year resident in Clinical Pathology, he expects to apply his computational skills to the emerging area of genomic medicine.
“Pathology fascinates me,” said Gerber, MD, PhD, a California native, who completed his undergraduate degree in mathematics and master’s in public health from the University of California at Berkeley. “It is the medical specialty that often helps renders the final diagnosis.”
Gerber's master’s degree work, which focused on infectious disease, sparked his interest in medicine, but word spread around Hollywood about his computer graphics talent at the same time. Soon, he found himself creating graphics in feature films, such as “Virtuosity,” starring Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe in 1995. Throughout the 1990s, Gerber continued to advance his career in Hollywood, becoming senior vice president of a studio that produced and financed IMAX films and other multi-million dollar projects.
But in 1999, when his mother was diagnosed with fallopian tube cancer, Gerber was inspired to pursue a career in medicine.
“I felt there was so much more that I could do to make a difference and help people,” said Gerber, who moved to Massachusetts in 2000 to attend M.I.T. and Harvard University and later Harvard Medical School. “The decision to leave behind a lucrative career in Hollywood was not easy, but I know it was the right one. Working in research and medicine has been phenomenally rewarding.”
In Clinical Pathology, he is learning to diagnose disease based on the laboratory analysis of bodily fluids and tissues using chemistry, microbiology, hematology and molecular techniques.
The essential teamwork in the lab is reminiscent of his Hollywood days. “In both film production and working in the clinical lab, there are all these talented, diverse specialists who have to work together behind the scenes to achieve success,” he said.
Gerber’s mother now has been cancer-free for 10 years, and he is excited about the year ahead of training for his second career – in Clinical Pathology and medical research. “Every day I continue to learn more and more about this specialty, and I’m convinced that it is the ideal fit for me,” he said.