Dad’s devotion: Meet the Hartwells, a tightknit Michigan Medicine family

June 15, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

An older photo of the Hartwells. L-R: Lisa, Matt, Eric (front), Brian, Mike.

Like most medical students, Matt Hartwell spent his time at Michigan Medicine focused on getting good grades and learning as much as he could in the classroom and clinic. At the same time, he remained keenly aware of the things he considered even more important.

“While I would stress myself out worrying about exams and trying to impress my attending physicians, it was always on my mind to make sure patients and families were comfortable,” said Matt, who graduated from U-M last month and will soon begin his orthopaedic surgery residency at Northwestern.

Credit that to Mike Hartwell — Matt’s dad and Michigan Medicine’s associate director of development for children and women’s health.

“When I come to work every day, I am always thinking about the kids we serve,” Mike said. “I fundraise knowing that the dollars we raise will make their day just a little bit brighter and a little bit better.”

An unbreakable bond

The drive and desire the Hartwells have to improve the patient experience was born out of a personal connection.

Thirteen years ago, in 2004, Mike’s son and one of Matt’s little brothers, Eric, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia.

Six months later, Eric passed away. The impact was felt on all members of the Hartwell family. Matt, only 15 at the time, decided he wanted to honor Eric’s legacy by pursuing a career in medicine.

Mike and his wife Lisa, meanwhile, founded the Eric Hartwell Foundation to help pediatric cancer patients at Mott. Mike also served as a family advisor on various committees at the hospital — and eventually accepted a full-time role in the Michigan Medicine Office of Development.

“Those months were incredibly difficult, but they also brought our family closer together,” Mike said. “For me, my wife, Matt and my youngest son, Brian, Eric’s memory is something we will always have in common. We feel like we all share an unbreakable bond.”

Finding the ‘aha moments’

Years later, as Matt worked his way through medical school, he and Mike would often meet up for lunch in the University Hospital cafeteria. Mike was always curious to find out what his son was learning and how much was sinking in.

“During every rotation, I would ask Matt if he had an ‘aha’ moment,” Mike said. “I wanted him to be on the lookout for things that would help him become a better — and more empathetic — doctor.”

The question became so prevalent that “It got to the point where I was trying to come up with ‘aha’ moments just to share with my dad,” Matt said with a chuckle.

But there certainly were eye-opening experiences, and Matt credits his dad with emphasizing how important they were. One such moment came during a research project he was working on regarding bone marrow transplants.

“I was looking at data that went back more than a decade,” Matt said. “And knowing that Eric had received a bone marrow transplant, it struck me that one of the pieces of data I was looking at represented him.

“Up until then, the data was just a number. Now, it’s clearer to me that every number — and every patient I see in the clinic — has a story and a family. That makes my interactions more meaningful and my work even more important.”

Staying close

Matt is in the process of moving to Chicago, but he and his dad said they will remain in almost constant communication.

“My wife and I have always made our kids a priority,” Mike said. “I learned that lesson from my dad. He was always there for me, supporting me. I’ve tried to do that for Matt and Brian.”

But there’s another reason to stay close — a reason that will make future Father’s Days just a little more special.

Matt and his wife announced on the day of his med school graduation that they are expecting their first child.

“That was quite a day,” Mike said with a smile. “I’m just so proud of Matt and the person he’s become. He’s going to be such a good dad.”

Matt, in turn, said he has had quite a father to learn from: “For us, it always has been and always will be family first. I have my dad to thank for that.”