Alumna Remains Engaged at Age 99, Looks to Publish Memoir

Фβͼalumna Maria Barrows and her grandson(Pictured right: Dr. Maria Barrows with her grandson, Frank P. Barrows, MD, PhD, at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine’s graduation in 2023, during which she hooded him.)

Maria I. Barrows, MD ’49, has led a full life, and she has stories to share about every part of it.

Dr. Barrows, born Maria Weissenberg on April 8, 1925, in Vienna, Austria, shares that some of those stories involve her family and the circumstances of the time: Being sent to safety to the United States by ship at age 15 (sponsored by the Quakers) after Hitler invaded her homeland; or having the Von Trapps (of The Sound of Music fame) as family friends; or having a father and uncle in the medical and science fields who knew Albert Einstein.

Then, there were the instances that she could control.

Dr. Barrows chose to attend the Marquette University School of Medicine (MCW’s predecessor institution) because it offered an opportunity to graduate in three years’ time. Her class had 75 students, including seven women – two of whom were nuns.

“The other women graduates were such an inspiration to me,” says Dr. Barrows. “I used to travel with Sister Agnes Terese during vacations, sharing a sleeper train car between Milwaukee and Ossining, New York, when I would accompany her to the Maryknoll Motherhouse on the way to visiting my father in New York City.”

Dr. Barrows completed her pathology residency in San Diego and San Francisco, during which she married Frank Barrows and had two children. Her husband was an international educational advisor whose job with the United Nations required him to live and work overseas. Dr. Barrows joined him on these relocations to exotic places such as Malawi, Taiwan, Malaysia, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Dr. Barrows says that the most rewarding stretch of her career was her first overseas job in Blantyre, Malawi. The country had just gained independence from the United Kingdom; as a result, many of the physicians had returned to England – so she was the only pathologist in Malawi, responsible for all post-mortem examinations, surgical tissue extractions and transfusion services.

Other rewarding overseas episodes included establishing an outpatient general practice clinic for local and international United Nations staff in Bangladesh – where she helped an abandoned neonatal infant survive and thrive. In Indonesia, she helped rehabilitate an American tourist who had fallen into a volcano in Northern Sumatra and who was eventually rescued after three days with a broken femur.

Each new location afforded Dr. Barrows a chance to provide care, teach and support missionary work. She is thankful for all of it.

“I was able to expand my knowledge by working with people who had rare and tropical disease,” she says. “I learned creative communication skills with patients who didn’t speak my language, and I got to help many people who otherwise would have gone without care.”

Dr. Barrows worked from the time of her graduation in 1949 until her retirement in 2002. Although she doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer, Dr. Barrows enjoyed helping patients get better – and she continues to encourage others to pursue careers in medicine to experience that same joy. This approach is working, as she has brought numerous people into the healthcare fold, including members of her own family. Two of her grandchildren, both physicians, are recipients of prestigious national fellowships – one at the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute and one at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. A meaningful legacy with roots at MCW! Dr. Barrows currently is finishing a memoir on her life and work at home and abroad.

– Anthony Braza

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