Dr. John Marx devoted his life to emergency medicine.
He once wrote that he felt proud and lucky to help people in that terrible moment “in their life – when they haven’t expected to wake up in the morning and have their wife die or have their child severely injured or paralyzed in a car crash.”
His own unexpected death came in a much different way.
Marx, who spent 20 years as chairman of emergency medicine at Carolinas Medical Center, died at home in his sleep on July 1. He was 62, with no known health problems.
Karin Marx said she and her two sons had gone for groceries while her husband took a nap that Sunday afternoon. When they returned, she could tell right away that something was wrong. He could not be revived.
“He was the love of my life,” she said. “We were kind of gearing down to retire. We wanted to travel and do things together.”
A private memorial service was held in the Marx front yard, in keeping with the doctor’s personality. “He never wanted the spotlight to shine on himself,” said Dr. Michael Gibbs, his successor at CMC.
The service drew leaders in emergency medicine from across the country, including Dr. Peter Rosen, one of the founders of emergency medicine as a specialty.
Marx had worked with Rosen at Denver Health Medical Center before moving to Charlotte. Rosen, founding editor of Rosen’s Emergency Medicine, the leading textbook, had chosen Marx to succeed him as editor-in-chief several years ago.
In 1991, when emergency medicine was still a new specialty, CMC recruited Marx from Denver, which had the “premiere residency program at the time,” said Dr. Lee Garvey, director of emergency cardiac care at CMC.
“We needed a national caliber leader,” Garvey said, and in Marx, “we got a young, up-and-coming, highly accomplished intellect.”
Under Marx, “we had immediate credibility,” Garvey said. “We were able to recruit the best and the brightest residency applicants.”
Today, CMC has one of the most competitive of the 150 emergency medicine residency programs in the country. It receives about 1,000 applications each year for 14 positions.
Over 20 years, Marx trained about 300 residents who are now leaders at other U.S. emergency departments.
Garvey recalled watching Marx, clad in white coat over scrubs, peering over his glasses, listening as residents and students evaluated patients in the ER, and waiting until just the right moment to ask the question that “turned the case.”
Marx believed it was a privilege to care for patients, and that rubbed off on colleagues and residents.
“We would care for every patient in the emergency department like they were a member of our family, no matter if they worked at Bank of America or lived under a bridge,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs took over when Marx became chair emeritus in 2010, but Marx continued to teach residents and contribute in many ways.
“He’s still here,” Garvey said. “His spirit is carried by those he mentored, and it pervades the department today. That’s the legacy he would want to know that he left.”