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To catch up with James and Susan Herman, you need a quick flashback to 1973, when Marshall Goldberg, head of the endocrinology department at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center and a professor at MSU, improbably became a beloved medical expert, avidly followed by viewers from coast to coast on the “Canada AM” morning TV show. (Or maybe not so improbably — Goldberg was dating Helen Hutchinson, the show’s co-anchor.)
Goldberg convinced the University of Saskatchewan’s medical school to send a cohort of students to do a year-long internship in Flint.
Among the Canadian interns was a young athlete named James Herman, who met his future wife, Susan, a medical technology intern from Flint, when they lived in the same interns’ quarters.
They first got together on the racquetball court.
“She was horrible,” James said. “I was a little slow about women and couldn’t figure out why she came.”
“Hey, stupid, she wants to date you,” a friend told him.
Soon after, when Herman studied at McGill University in Montreal, he found that his experience in Flint put him far ahead of his classmates.
“You won’t be able to do a bone marrow this year,” he was told. “That’s OK, we did a hundred of them in Flint,” he answered.
“Diabetic ketoacidosis?” “Saw it every night.” Goldberg, who was also an author with several TV credits, wrote a novel called “Critical List.” He based the main character on Herman under the name “Jack Hermanson.”
The Hermans moved to Lansing in 1983. Susan wanted their two sons to be near her family, in Flint, and the job offer from Sparrow for James Herman cinched the deal.
Herman is a medical oncologist, known for his wit and respectful honesty with is patients, but what really drew him to the field is the science behind oncology. The physics of radiation fascinated him 30 years ago and the surging role of genetics in the latest phase of cancer treatment keeps him from retirement in 2017.
He’s treated tens of thousands of patients, either one-on-one or as part of a multi-disciplinary team. They approach him, years later, to thank and hug him, on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, the Hermans were nonplussed when James and Judith Herbert invited them for dinner and asked them to join them in a naming-level gift for a new cancer center.
“After the shock wore off, we said, ‘of course,’” Herman said.
Now, as the opening festivities draw near, a man who has had lifeand-death talks with thousands of nervous patients is a self-admitted “nervous wreck.”
“What it is, is I have irritable bowel syndrome,” he explained. “I get anxious before I have to speak and then … .” “It’s an interview, James,” Susan said, swatting his arm.
“It’s comical, but it’s the way I am,” he shrugged.