Doug Wolf remembers a conversation he had with his wife, Lisa, back in 1988.
"We were discussing doctors. I told my wife if anything ever happens to me, get me stabilized and get me to Dr. Jim Adams. If I could be saved, Jim could do it," Wolf said about his friend, who graduated with him in 1980 from Bishop Guilfoyle High School.
Picking Adams would be a great choice.
Dr. James G. Adams teaches a student how to perform a procedure at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Dr. James G. Adams takes care of a patient in the emergency department at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Today, Adams, 49, is professor and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Adams, who grew up in the Red Hill area, decided medicine would be a good field and majored in molecular biology at Juniata College after graduating from high school.
"All of the stuff at the subcellular level was where the action was - understanding what was working inside the cells. That was fascinating, a very cool area of science. Understanding the cells and small components of cells, that is how cancer and other diseases will be cured," Adams said.
After graduating from Juniata, Adams joined the U.S. Air Force and received a scholarship to Georgetown University School of Medicine.
"There was a shortage of emergency medicine specialists. I became a specialist in emergency medicine," Adams said.
After graduating from medical school in 1988, he did his residency in emergency medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. From 1991 to 1995 he served in the Air Force at Wilford Hall Medical Center at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, where he became chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine and a major in the Air Force.
"I worked as a specialist in emergency medicine at a Level I training center training military doctors. We served 29 counties in Texas. People were flown in from around the world to see us for care. It was a good position to get," Adams said.
Adams moved on to Brigham and Women's Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School in Boston and became vice chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine. He was founding faculty member of the Harvard Affiliated Emergency Medicine Residency and received numerous awards from the university for his efforts.
From there, he went to Northwestern, where he has been since 2000.
"I was vice chairman at Boston, and when I came here I wanted to improve the department. They recruited me to be the number one guy here. It was a better position, and I got to have my own department," Adams said. "It is a nationally known department. I couldn't turn it down."
Dr. Brian Spector, department administrator for emergency medicine, works directly for Adams.
"He was recruited to 'right the ship' that was floundering due to poor leadership. Patient satisfaction in our ER was poor, nurse to physician interactions were strained, patients were unhappy and overall the institution and ER had a less than positive relationship," said Spector. "It was an all-around Mount Everest type of situation for someone to come into."
Adams trains students and residents, has authored numerous scientific publications - for 10 years he served as senior associate editor of the journal Academic Emergency Medicine - and does research as well as runs the emergency department.
He has been a visiting professor, speaker and distinguished lecturer at more than 200 universities and national conferences and has led numerous national ethics committees, task forces and writing groups related to professionalism and ethics in emergency medicine.
He has held national leadership positions including serving on the board of directors of the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine.
But most of all, Adams said he enjoys taking care of people.
"What I enjoy most is taking care of patients in need. Here, they can get the best care in the world. We take care of the poorest and the richest here. You can have a homeless man right next to a billionaire," Adams said. "Teaching, writing and speaking is important, but we need to improve the care that everybody has."
Spector calls Adams an inspirational leader.
"He has this ability to get the very best from you. It doesn't hurt that he's the nicest person you could ever meet. He genuinely takes the time to listen to you regardless of where you fall in the hierarchy and helps guide you to be your best," Spector said. "That is why he is such a great mentor to me, our physicians and physicians-in-training."
Adams said he didn't have one particular role model but credits the priests and nuns who dedicated themselves to Catholic education.
"I owe a great deal to the Catholic education system, the hard work and ethics," Adams said.
Among those who were important in his life were Father Daniel O'Friel, vice principal at Bishop Guilfoyle's Sixth Avenue school, and Sister of Charity Felicita Diggin, who was head of the math department at BG and in charge of extracurricular activities.
He also said his football coach at BG, Tom Irwin, was influential in his life.
"I wasn't very good. I learned hard work and teamwork - that is what BG taught, and Tom Irwin reinforced it. Those are lessons that you take with you all through your life," Adams said.
Those who remember Adams from his high school days are not surprised by his success.
"He was a serious, conscientious student. He was responsible, very respectful. He was academically focused. He was very involved in the life of the school," said Monsignor Robert Mazur of the Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament,, who was assistant administrator at Bishop Guilfoyle at the time. "I am happy to share in his success as a former administrator at his school and as pastor of the parish he belonged to. I am proud of him."
John Bravin, who now teaches at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center, was Adams' English teacher at Bishop Guilfoyle.
"He was a great guy. Probably what led him into medicine [is] he was very curious about things. He wanted more than the content of the lesson. He was very friendly and well liked and was very bright. He was an A student in everything," Bravin said. "You could see he had the talent and the ambition. He wanted to do as much as he could."
Dan Bender, who is a principal at GACTC today, was a guidance counselor at BG during Adams' senior year.
Bender said he knew Adams; his twin brother, Joe; brother Jeff; and sister, Cecelia, who all attended BG.
"I remember their maturity. They all seemed to interact with adults quite fluidly. They carried themselves years ahead of their chronological age. They were more mature than average high school students. They were students who seemed to know where they wanted to go and how to get there," Bender said. "He took the best classes. He would have excelled in any field he wanted to go into."
Wolf, president of Wolf Furniture Co., and Michael Fiore, executive vice president of Leonard S. Fiore Inc., Altoona, were among Adams' closest high school friends.
Wolf also knew Jim's twin brother, Joe.
"They were incredibly courteous young men - the kind your parents would be glad you hung out with," Wolf said.
Fiore called Adams "an outstanding person."
"Their whole family was community oriented. He is just part of an outstanding family and a person as a whole," Fiore said. "He was always an overachiever and wanted to do what was best not just for himself but for everybody involved. He is a great leader."
Adams has won numerous awards over the years, but one is most important to him - The James G. Adams Faculty Leadership Award at Brigham and Women's Hospital.
"Having an award named after me was touching, and I was named the first recipient," Adams said.
Adams, who is single and lives in Chicago, said he gets home three or four times a year. He said what he remembers most about growing up in Altoona is the strong, hard working people.
Adams said he hopes people remember him "as a good person who tried to do a little bit of good."
Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.