An old school doctor dedicated to profession

Former Harrison Health Officer Karen Comer, who retired after more than 25 years on the job in December 2011, remembered Dr. Stanley Siwek as “the only doctor we knew [at the then-municipal health clinic] who would do house calls.”

Comer, among those attending last week’s ribbon-cutting for Harrison’s new health center named for Siwek, said that if he was running late on evening appointments, “he would tell a patient to leave the house lights on and he’d come by at, say, 11 p.m.”

Siwek, who also put in time at the town clinic, would also gladly give flu shots to those in need, Comer said.

At his medical office on Central Ave., where he saw private patients from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m., “he accepted all types of payment,” she said, including “baked cookies” or “washing his car,” if a patient was hard up for cash.

“He was one of a kind,” Comer said.

Further evidence of his benevolence, according to former town Fire Chief Tom Dolaghan, was Siwek’s readiness to accompany the Blue Tide gridiron squad on the road even though he would receive compensation only for home games.

So many Harrison residents owe their lives to Siwek – literally – since it was he who delivered them into the world – or treated them for various ailments – during a 60-year career as a medical practitioner.

Jack Pettigrew, a former Kearny firefighter who now works for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said that Siwek “was my grandparents’ doctor, my dad’s and uncle’s doctor, myself and my siblings.”

Pettigrew’s sister, Mary Anderson, became a registered nurse and recalled that Siwek “would always be assisting on surgeries performed on any of his patients” at the old West Hudson Hospital in Kearny. “That was considered unusual at the time,” she said.

And while he was not known as a medical researcher, Pettigrew said it was Siwek who investigated the circumstances leading to drivers and other employees at St. Johnsbury Trucking at the old Turco site in Kearny contracting the same type of serious illness.

“There was a yellow substance coming from the parking lot that was making people sick,” Pettigrew said, and Siwek “discovered that it contained hexavalent chromium which caused cancer. He sounded the alarm.”

By the late 1990s, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got involved, declared the property a federal Superfund site and initiated a cleanup protocol.

Still, the doctor – who was always serious about the business of health – also had a lighter one.

After completing his evening rounds, Siwek would slip down to the Fire Department for a round of ping pong with the rank-and-file, said Dolaghan.

“His favorite joke would be to tell someone, “See my pride and joy?” and then he’d reach into his pocket and pull out one of these cards,” producing an advertisement for Joy the detergent.

And at his office, when patients would leave, the doctor offered them this farewell: “Happy Days!”

– Ron Leir 

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