James Madara was driving in for a layup at the school playground when he accidentally ran into the pole.
The Bellwood-Antis sixth-grader ended up in a Philadelphia hospital.
"While in the hospital, I got interested in medicine. I had an uncle in Michigan who was a physician, and a combination of the two things helped me decide," said Madara, 61, who became executive vice president and CEO of the American Medical Association, the nation's oldest and largest physician group, in July 2011.
Dr. James L. Madara works in his office at the American Medical Association’s headquarters building in Chicago. The Bellwood native now resides in the Hyde Park section of Chicago.
While a student at Bellwood-Antis High School, Madara considered several different areas of the medical field.
"I thought about orthopedics, pediatrics and psychiatry and ended up thinking about radiology, oncology and pathology and ended up liking that," Madara said.
After graduating from Bellwood-Antis in 1968, Madara was off to Juniata College where he graduated in three years with a bachelor's degree in biology.
THE MADARA FILE
Name: Dr. James L. Madara
Position: Executive vice president and CEO of the American Medical Association
Education: 1968 graduate of Bellwood-Antis High School; 1971 graduate of Juniata College with a bachelor's degree in biology; 1975 graduate of Hahnemann Medical College
Family: Wife, Vicki; son, Max; and daughter, Alexis
Quote: "My mom was my English teacher. She was a fantastic teacher. When I was in eighth grade she threw me out of class. Anytime anyone did anything within five seats of me I got blamed for it. She was determined not to show any favoritism. I didn't do anything."
"He was very smart - an excellent student. He really worked hard in college," college friend Dr. J. Richard Pfeffer of Altoona said. "He was very motivated. All he wanted to do was go to medical school."
Madara graduated from Hahnemann Medical College in Philadelphia in 1975. He served an internship and residency in pathology at New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston, Mass., from 1976-78.
Madara went on to become an accomplished academic medical center physician, medical scientist and administrator.
He began his career as an instructor of pathology at Harvard Medical School in 1980, and by the time he left in 1997 he was a professor of pathology.
He moved to Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, where he served as Timmie Professor and chairman of pathology and laboratory medicine before assuming the Thompson Distinguished Service Professorship and Deanship at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, where he was the longest serving Pritzker dean in the last 35 years.
While at the University of Chicago from 2002-09, he oversaw a significant renewal of the institution's biomedical campus.
In 2009, Madara left the University of Chicago and went to work as a senior advisor for Leavitt Partners, a firm founded by former Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael O. Leavitt.
Then he was contacted by the AMA.
"At first I was not interested. Then I looked at their mission statement and it really captured me," Madara said.
"I thought it would be a job where I could have a high degree of impact in American medicine," he said. "I jumped at the chance. I went from where I wasn't sure about the job to salivating for the job."
Madara said much of his career has been spent in the "academic end of things."
"About 70 percent of my time was overseeing a research lab," Madara said. "I liked to teach. I really enjoyed the biomedical research component, how diseases originate and how they are diagnosed and treated using molecular cell technology."
Madara said he is probably best-known for what he calls "turnarounds" at Emory University and the University of Chicago.
The University of Chicago was one of the top places in the country in the 1950s and 1960s but had been moving downward, said Ken Sharigian, AMA senior vice president for development and integration.
"He turned it around in a very short time. His very insightful strategy made it able to attract the best people. What he meant to the University of Chicago was as a re-direction from a downward trajectory to a positive one. He also turned around the pathology department at Emory and he did it in a quick way," Sharigian said. "He has contributed so much to American medicine and biology. He is one of the top people in American medicine and biology in terms of leadership."
Madara also is quite proud of his work as an educator. In 2011, he received lifetime achievement awards from the American Physiological Society and American Gastroenterological Association related to that work.
"I then realized I have produced a lot of professors around the country; many of those people are doing very well," Madara said. "I realized their collective work will be more impactful than mine. That legacy aspect I am very proud of."
Madara is a noted academic pathologist and an authority on epithelial cell biology and on gastrointestinal disease. He has published more than 200 original papers and chapters, making important contributions to understanding the biology of the cells that line the digestive tract.
He has served as president of the American Board of Pathology and as Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Pathology.
Madara has already made his mark at the AMA.
"The first thing he did was take inventory about what to do and how to do it. He is in the process of rolling out a new strategic plan; it is very innovative and will be a blueprint to carry the AMA forward over the next 20 or 30 years in a disciplined relevant fashion," said Dr. Andrew Gurman of Altoona, a member of the AMA board of trustees, the executive committee and speaker of the House of Delegates, the policy making body. "He is a very smart man, an innovator, thinker and a persuasive and strong leader and a visionary."
Madara said his parents and various mentors throughout his career set some simple ground rules he has followed.
"Always take the high road, when you get into a tough situation know what the high road is," Madara said. "Never be afraid to be caught in the truth and don't mistake someone making a mistake for a conspiracy."
High school classmate Ron Rossi said Madara was a "brilliant guy with a wicked sense of humor."
"He was the kind of guy who could look at a complex issue and identify what was important. His mind could compress many layers of a complicated problem and get to what is important," Rossi said. "He went to Juniata and blew up the science program. He knew how to get things done and maintain a sense of humor and normalcy."
Reliance Bank President and CEO Tim Sissler, also a member of the Bellwood-Antis Class of 1968, said he got to know Madara well. Madara was the center and Sissler the quarterback on the Blue Devils football team.
"Jim was very intelligent. He was a little quirky; he had a strange sense of humor," Sissler said. "Jim athletically got the most out of his ability. He was not a great athlete but he got the most out of what he had."
When not on the job, Madara enjoys time with his wife, Vicki. Their son, Max, is a junior at Emory University and daughter, Alexis, is a junior at the University of Southern California.
He said he has no immediate plans to retire.
"I would like to work for another 10 years. If I ever stop working, I would like to continue part time and spend some time on some boards. There is too much to do," Madara said.
Madara, who lives in the Hyde Park section of Chicago, said he misses the Bellwood area.
"I miss the mountains and the natural beauty of the area. That is something that someone never forgets. From our front porch, we would look up at Brush Mountain. You would wake up and see the fog and in the fall you would see the colors of the mountain," Madara said. "That is something I really miss and the friendliness and openness of the people in the area."
Madara said he doesn't get home too often - his father Daniel died in 2004 and his mother, Jane, a long-time Bellwood-Antis English teacher, died in December at the age of 97.
He will be back in the area Saturday to receive an honorary doctor of letters degree and deliver the commencement address at Juniata College.
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.