Illness on the morning of his Law School Admission Test is what started Dr. Stephen Rydzak down the path toward medical school.
Though he had planned to attend law school, after missing the test, he began to seriously consider medical school. Once accepted, he found a fulfilling career and has never looked back.
Rydzak is one of two physicians being recognized Friday with induction into the Bethesda Health Clinic’s Doctor Luke Society. Dr. Noah Israel is the other.
Rydzak is the medical director of ETMC’s Hyperbaric Medicine Program and Inpatient Wound Management.
Israel is the founding physician of Cardiovascular Associates of East Texas and co-director of the Cardiac Cath Laboratory at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Hospital.
“It’s nice,” Rydzak said of the honor. “I was surprised because the people that have been honored in the past are typically the physicians, I guess, that have been toward the end of their careers and they’ve accomplished so much.”
Israel said he was humbled to receive the award.
“It doesn’t get better than that,” he said, adding the honor indicates a doctor has obtained a certain level of appreciation from their patients and others in the community.
Created by the Bethesda Health Clinic in 2004, the Doctor Luke Society provides a way to honor exceptional local physicians.
The society’s name comes from the biblical reference in Colossians 4:14, in which the Apostle Paul refers to St. Luke as the beloved physician.
An induction into the society provides a way to honor and appreciate people in the medical community who best embody St. Luke’s spirit.
To date, the Doctor Luke Society has honored 38 local physicians, including Israel and Rydzak.
Israel is a pioneer when it comes to cardiology in East Texas. He was the first cardiologist in Tyler when he arrived in 1982. He said spearheading a heart program was a challenge, but also provided a great opportunity for East Texas patients.
In his 35 years of practicing medicine here, there have been so many changes in technology and advances in medicine. The quality in care and sophistication has exploded, Israel said.
In addition, many heart diseases have been eliminated or better prevented through different measures, he said.
Israel said he most enjoys interacting with his patients - he typically sees about 20 per day. He said he has no plans of slowing down because he is having too much fun. In 2013, his daughter, Dr. Rachel DeVaney, joined the practice - a moment he marks as his proudest in the profession - and he said he is enjoying getting to know her in a different way, as a colleague.
The variety of situations and the opportunity to help improve people’s health is what keeps him motivated.
“I think I’m blessed by Tyler, and (that’s) something I’ll never take for granted,” he said. “I’m very humbled by the nomination and recognition to enter the Doctor Luke Society.”
Rydzak has carved out his own niche. When he was a medical student in San Antonio, one of the physicians took him to Brooks Air Force Base and showed him people researching hyperbaric medicine.
Rydzak was enamored by the physiology of it and the way it was so different than the normal earth atmosphere environment. Because of that, he sought out training in undersea and hyperbaric medicine, and in 1999, when board certification in that subspecialty became available, he took and passed the exam.
Today, Rydzak wears many hats. He is a board certified internal medicine physician at ETMC First Physicians, and the medical director of the ETMC Hyperbaric Medicine Program and Inpatient Wound Management.
In these latter roles, he oversees the program and provides all the consultations with patients for hyperbaric medicine and wound management.
Hyperbaric medicine involves treating people in a chamber that is under pressure (three times the usual) with 100 percent oxygen. The regular atmosphere is 21 percent oxygen.
This treatment provides an improved capacity to heal for people who have non-healing wounds (typical of diabetics), scuba divers who get decompression sickness, and people whose limbs have been crushed and have swelling and tissue damage (this treatment can help them avoid amputation).
“I enjoy the science of what I do and I enjoy the patients,” Rydzak said. “You know, the people in East Texas are good, hardworking, warm people. … They’re trying to raise their families and just live their lives. And they’re just a joy to talk to and to be with.”
Dr. John English, Bethesda Health Clinic’s CEO and medical director, said the purpose of Friday’s event is not only to honor these two physicians, but also to recognize the medical community as a whole who give and contribute to the patients Bethesda serves.
“Hopefully, the takeaway is that Bethesda’s a unique place,” English said. “We have a great medical community, and we’re only able to do this because of the support we get.”
Former staff writer Coshandra Dillard contributed to this report.
Bethesda Health Clinic receives no state or federal funding. Its aim is to serve the working uninsured or underinsured.
BY THE NUMBERS
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5,000 unique people served annually
18 to 64 is the age range served (after Medicaid, but before Medicare)
300 plus medical and non-medical volunteers