Dr. David Wolf has lived his life with a higher purpose in mind.
When he was in fourth grade, the Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital OB-GYN had a calling to become a physician and never doubted that it would be his destiny.
“I was looking out at the playground – wishing I was out there playing basketball – when I had a vision that I was supposed to be a physician, and I never stopped dreaming about it,” Dr. Wolf said. “If you believe in something higher than yourself, you could say that it was a calling from God.”
As a leader in the healthcare community, Dr. Wolf frequently volunteers his time to nonprofit organizations and helps shape the minds of young doctors as associate director of the hospital’s Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency Program.
A commitment to his profession – coupled with his spirit of empathy and compassion – recently earned him the 2019 Arnold P. Gold Foundation Humanism in Medicine Award from the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians & Gynecologists. The award honors practicing physicians, selected by their specialty societies, who are exemplars in compassion and sensitivity in patient care.
Dr. Wolf remembers the phone call informing him of the honor came at a time he wasn’t feeling particularly well. “I almost started crying when they told me,” he said. “The thing so powerful about this award is that it hits the areas I’ve been trying all my life to emphasize. This award means more to me than any other I’ve received.”
Being the first recipient of the award also strikes a special chord with him.
“They have never given this award before; I was the first one to receive it,” he said. “Just to think that out of all the osteopathic obstetricians and gynecologists in America, and for some reason they felt I should have this award. I’m very proud of it, and I’ll always treasure it.”
Patient-centered focus benefits community
Dr. Wolf is a graduate of Des Moines University-College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his residency at Riverside Osteopathic Hospital in 1979 and became Board Certified in 1983. He was in private practice from July 1979 to June 2010.
In addition to serving as associate director of the OB-GYN Residency Program, he gives of his time as a physician volunteer at the Downriver Community Clinic, a free medical clinic run by the hospital that provides a range of services such as primary care, nutrition and weight loss, and women’s care for uninsured and underinsured working people.
He also serves as chair of The Center for Women’s and Children’s Health, which he founded when he saw the need to aid women and children with limited access to medical care due to financial limitations.
In addition, he is a past President of the American College of Osteopathic Obstetricians and Gynecologists and an emeritus member of the American Osteopathic Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Accident takes career in new direction
Despite his impressive career, he has faced many challenges in life and takes them on resolutely – a quality admired by his peers and patients alike.
In 2001, Dr. Wolf had a successful OB-GYN practice in Trenton when his life took an unexpected turn. A go-kart racing accident left him paralyzed from the waist down – and in doubt about the future of his medical career.
“I almost died that day,” he recalled. “I was fighting for my life, not knowing if I would ever be a physician again – or even live.”
With an uncanny ability to find good in every situation, Dr. Wolf credits his accident with taking his career in a new direction.
“It was about that time when Riverside was closing, and at that point Wyandotte was not a teaching hospital,” he said. “If it weren’t for my accident and having more time to spend with the residents, I don’t think we would’ve been able to pull that off.”
He also points to the accident as the conduit to humanizing his approach to medicine. “I better understand now how someone feels when faced with a hardship,” he said. “I can empathize better because I know what it means to be knocked down. If you ask my patients, I think they would say I’m more understanding and compassionate than I was before.”
Compassionate nature is a must in medicine
The art of compassion is one that’s becoming lost in medicine, according to Dr. Wolf.
“Doctors don’t know patients like they used to, and that is so critical in a patient’s recovery,” he said. “We have a big problem in medicine today with burnout, and I think the reason is so much emphasis being placed on the technical side. We forget about the interpersonal relationships, and that’s really what keeps you going.”
Dr. Wolf penned a book titled “The Gift is You” after his accident, and the story is one of faith, hope and resilience. “I’ve given many talks in this community and around the Midwest about how religion can help you through any experience,” he said.
While he has undoubtedly inspired countless patients and fellow physicians, he draws inspiration from them as well.
“A lot of things inspire me,” he said. “It’s a wonderful experience to talk to somebody with a problem and help them through it. Not only medical problems, but psychological – maybe they’re going through a divorce or their child is having problems.”
Holding a master’s degree in social work gives him a unique insight in helping patients through good and bad times.
Dr. Wolf has delivered more than 11,000 babies, and said he finds each one special. “When I think about the experiences I’ve had in those delivery rooms – a wife and husband in the process of having a child and I get to be there to see the joy and tears when you’re part of bringing life into the world,” he said. “But there are also the sad moments you have to deal with when someone loses a child or there is a problem with the birth. Those times have stuck with me a great deal, too.”
One life affects many others
No matter where he goes, Dr. Wolf comes across someone whose life he has affected.
“I recently had major surgery and the doctor came in with something special to tell me,” he said. “He said ‘the scrub tech is a former patient of yours. You saved her life about a week before your go-kart accident.’”
That kind of human connection is what inspires his physician volunteer work.
“Before the accident, I would go to Haiti once a year with a resident and it was the greatest thing to look into a woman’s eyes as they said thank you – knowing that otherwise they wouldn’t have had any care,” he said.
After the accident, he no longer was able to make the yearly Haiti trip, but while attending a banquet for the Downriver Community Clinic, he turned to his wife and said: “I just found my new Haiti.”
He soon left his private practice and began volunteering at the clinic, along with his team of nurses. “We can be there on a Saturday morning, not getting paid, but helping individuals who are working but don’t have any insurance,” he said. “The only thing we get out of it is something money can’t buy.”
Founding The Center for Women’s and Children’s Health came of his dream to help women and babies not receiving proper care.
Through the center, the Yes Ma’am Program was formed, which provides free services such as mammograms, MRIs, breast biopsies and ultrasounds to women in need.
He recalls a 32-year-old woman from Mexico who came into the clinic in need of birth control pills and the team found a lump in her breast. “Because of Yes Ma’am, we could offer her a free mammogram and found she had breast cancer,” Dr. Wolf said. “If not for Yes Ma’am, she would be dead today.”
His humanitarian efforts also extend to the tiniest patients. “We see so many babies dying of SIDS, and I want to prevent this tragedy,” he said.
Suffocation is the main cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, and thanks to Dr. Wolf’s efforts, every baby born at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital and Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit receives a safe sleep sack – a wearable blanket that keeps a baby on its back and prevents it from rolling over. Every family also goes home with information about SIDS.
His spirit of caring for others in every circumstance played a large part in Dr. Wolf earning his latest accolade from the Arnold P. Gold Foundation, and largely defines his life.
“When you give of yourself to somebody else, they give back to you,” he said.