Skip to main content

Medical student, cancer survivor connects with former doctor for unique educational experience

Dan Wurtz, MD, works in surgery with medical student Carly Chapman.

Dan Wurtz, MD, works in surgery with medical student Carly Chapman.

Carly Chapman doesn’t look back on her time battling osteosarcoma with too much sadness.

While there were multiple surgeries and months-long chemo-filled stays at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, she chooses to remember with fondness the colorful hallways and afternoons spent in the activity rooms doing crafts and playing.

And the doctors who cared for her, of course, she said—they’re firmly planted in her memory as well. So, when the time came to choose a career, and her ambitions and interests led her to become a doctor herself, she knew she wanted to study alongside the man she credits with saving her life.

During her final year at the Marian University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Indianapolis, Chapman completed a special clinical rotation alongside L. Daniel Wurtz, MD, the orthopaedic oncologist who cared for her during her time with cancer. Wurtz is the chair of Indiana University School of Medicine Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. He performed more than a dozen surgeries on Chapman’s leg following her diagnosis, including several procedures to help lengthen her prosthetic that were considered experimental for their time.

Working with Wurtz felt like she’d come full circle, Chapman said.

“I wanted to see how Dr. Wurtz put people back together,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here without him.”

Chapman’s cancer was located in her left femur. From the time of her diagnosis at age 9 until her senior year of high school, she underwent roughly 25 separate surgeries. At one point in her battle, she spent nearly 10 consecutive months living in Riley Hospital for Children.

She recalls sitting in a hospital bed as a patient, listening to Wurtz calmly explain different procedures and prognoses. He was always positive, always fought for the best outcome. He became a friend to the Chapmans and left them feeling at ease.

Back then, Chapman, now 26, didn’t know she wanted to become a doctor herself.

She enjoyed science and chemistry, and she gravitated toward medicine — she even job-shadowed Wurtz for a few weeks when she was in high school—but pushed herself to try other things. She ended up majoring in pre-medicine; but she did stints as a researcher, a scribe and a substitute teacher before taking the Medical College Admission Test.

Something just kept calling her back to medicine, she said.

That first time shadowing Wurtz as a high school student was difficult, Chapman said. She was cancer free but still undergoing routine surgeries, and it was hard to see herself in the patients she encountered.

Older, wiser and with more experience, she had the chance this year to stand at Wurtz’s side a second time—now in a white coat herself—and explain those same operations and outcomes, to witness and assist in the surgeries.

Now, she better understands the unique perspective she has as a patient who became a physician. And it’s one she’ll carry with her throughout her career.

Chapman said working with Wurtz taught her to see the full scope of ortho-oncology. She learned to be confident in her practice, to see the positives in every patients’ situation and do whatever good you can to help a patient where they are.

Now, Chapman will hold those lessons close as she continues her education. She recently matched into the family medicine residency program at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, which serves as the Muncie campus of IU School of Medicine. It was Chapman’s family doctor who first caught her cancer and referred her to the ortho-oncologist at Riley for further diagnosis. Chapman said she hopes to advocate for her future patients the same way that doctor advocated for her.

The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.

Caitlin VanOverberghe

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a communications coordinator for the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she supports the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and the Department of Ophthalmology. Having earned degrees in journalism and telecommunications ...