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Margaret Samyn, M.D. '85

Margaret Samyn, M.D.Doctor pays it forward with scholarship for science students

Margaret Samyn, M.D. ’85, seeks to help UDM students succeed by funding a new annual science scholarship. The scholarship is geared toward science students who want to be successful in school and their careers, and are willing to “pay it forward,” as part of a self-perpetuating, grassroots effort to mentor and support UDM students.

Receiving a scholarship was the catalyst that led Samyn to choose the University of Detroit. “I remember being so excited about getting the Leo D. Cline scholarship,” she said. “It helped pay for my education and was a big esteem-builder.”

Education and exploration were strongly encouraged in the Samyn household of five children. Samyn knew at age 9 that she wanted to be a doctor. Her older brother Joe is also a cardiologist and U of D graduate (B.S., chemistry ‘82). Her parents—Joseph Samyn, and Ann Marie Markey Samyn—are longtime donors to UDM, helping to ensure that a quality education is available in the city of Detroit. Philanthropy is part of the family heritage.

Several of Samyn’s professors, including Gerard Albright, S.J., Mary Lou Caspers and Ken Henold, also became her mentors. Their intensive classes, which contained nuggets of practical information, forged her scientific prowess and honed her stamina for learning.

“The professors and staff (then as today) make you feel special,” she noted. “The professors are accomplished and connected, and extend unique opportunities to students. UDM has a great track record in educating pre-med students.”

One of the most difficult yet instrumental classes at U of D, she recalled, was Physical Chemistry. In that course she learned how to use Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), which would become an integral aspect of her career.

After graduating from U of D as valedictorian with a B.S. in chemistry and biology (dual major), Samyn chose to attend Wayne State University School of Medicine and graduated in 1989. She did an internship in pediatrics and internal medicine at U of M, followed by a residency in pediatrics there. In 1992, she joined a private practice in pediatrics in Ann Arbor and was a clinical associate in pediatrics
at U of M.

She noted that taking 2-1/2 years of theology and philosophy at U of D helped fine-tune her conscience. “Thinking about the right thing to do morally has served me well in making difficult decisions about children’s health,” she said. When she faced a tough quality-of-life issue concerning her teen-aged patients, she took the problem to Fr. Albright. He listened to her reasoning and said, “I can’t tell you what to do. You already know the answer.”

A few years later, Samyn decided to specialize in pediatric cardiology and served a rigorous fellowship at the University of Iowa. She then joined the research staff of Parke-Davis/Warner Lambert, which later merged with Pfizer Global Research & Development. There, she investigated medications for cardiovascular disease and worked on developing biomarkers for detecting improvements in cardiac disease after therapy.

In 2003, the Division of Pediatric Cardiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville recruited Samyn to conduct pediatric cardiac research, provide pediatric patient care and educate medical students. As an added benefit, she had advanced training in cardiac MRI at Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School.

She and her husband James Akao, moved to Milwaukee, Wis. in 2006 when he took a job as an MRI engineer with GE. She became associate professor in pediatric cardiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin and practices at the Herma Heart Center, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, named as one of the nation’s top 10 pediatric heart programs by U.S. News & World Report (July 2010).

Samyn’s special research interests involve using cardiac MRI to investigate early markers of coronary artery disease in young patients with Type 1 diabetes, and investigating the outcome of postoperative children and adolescents with tetralogy of Fallot, the most common neonatal “blue” heart disease. As an instructor and mentor to medical students, residents and pediatric cardiology fellows, she also invites UDM college students to visit CHW as another way to “pay it forward.”