Last week I had an “around every corner” moment when I saw author Pam Daugavietis signing copies of her new book “Through the Eyes of a Child” outside the Sallie Bender Guild Gift Shop. Pam was having her picture taken with AnnieHauck and her mom Julie. Annie, now 18, is the tiny preemie pictured with neonatologist Tom Shaw, MD on the book’s cover. “What are the odds of that?” I wondered.
Many of the major children’s hospitals in this country are more than 100 years old. My former children’s hospital in Connecticut traces its roots back to the 1898 founding as “The Home for Incurables.” I knew only one of the early “giants” there, Burr H. Curtis, MD, a renowned pediatric orthopaedist and administrator for 50 years.
Pam Daugavietis has had a ringside seat as a freelance writer associated with the children’s hospital foundation since 1993. Her book tells the history of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and the many grateful patients it has touched from the perspective of dozens of physicians, community leaders and philanthropists who made the dream of a new children’s hospital come true over the past 20 years.
Reading “Through the Eyes of a Child” I discovered the names of so many of the “giants who walk among us” today at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital are people who have been involved almost since the beginning, caring for children and families or supporting the hospital through their generosity.
The book’s opening paragraph hit me between the eyes. Local pediatrician Tim Conroy, MD, in 1986 calls Dom Sanfilippo, MD, then chief resident in critical care at Children’s Hospital of Michigan. Tim begs his friend Dom to come to Grand Rapids to save the lives of critically ill and injured children.
Wait a minute, I knew Dom Sanfilippo had come here in 1989, but I had no idea of Tim Conroy’s connection, and I see Tim every week. Pam’s story had hooked me immediately, and as I read I began writing down many more familiar names.
Bob Connors, MD, president of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, was the first dedicated pediatric surgeon when he came to Grand Rapids in 1990. It said he was motivated by the vision “of a community ready to do the right thing for kids.”
I had heard Steve Heacock tell the story of his late daughter Kirsten’s battle with leukemia in the mid-1980s and her lengthy hospitalizations at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor. It meant a great deal to the Heacocks when the first pediatric hematologist/oncologist, James Fahner, MD came to Grand Rapids in 1989 and took over Kirsten’s care. Now Steve is Senior Vice President of Community Relations at Spectrum Health and I work for Steve and Dr. Connors.
During tours of the children’s hospital I love telling the story of how pharmacist Diane Sinsabaugh helped kids create artwork from the leftover pharmacy supplies. As Dr. Fahner’s first pharmacist, 20 years ago she helped the patients decorate brown paper bags to disguise their chemotherapy bags.
Dr. Fahner’s cancer program by 1991 had grown to include Richard Axtell, MD and Al Cornelius, MD, and when Kirsten Heacock relapsed in 1993, Deanna Mitchell, MD cared for her. The pastoral care team of Rev. Gloria Kroeze and Rev Joanna Bailey have been part of the children’s cancer program nearly since its inception.
And I enjoyed discovering that the 1993 patient move into the new Center Tower for DeVos Children’s Hospital was coordinated by Mary Kay Van Driel, then head of pediatric nursing, now president of Spectrum’s Value Health Partners, and current nurses Deb Van Putten, Joanne Mooney and Sandy Zemaitis.
Wendy Burdo-Hartman, MD, the Gerber Endowed Chair of Infant Development and Nutrition since 2006, had previously done her residency at Butterworth Hospital in 1992. Hematology/Oncology nurse Candy Rietsema was a cancer patient at age 12, and Rhys VanDemark of Child Life had previously been part of the program at Blodgett Hospital before the 1997 merger that created Spectrum Health.
Ed Cox, MD came from private practice in pediatrics at Blodgett Hospital in 1990 to run the pediatric residency teaching clinic at Butterworth and Jeri Kessenich, MD has directed the pediatric residency program since 1995.
Gwen Fosse became a critical care nurse in 1980, and later a cardiac nurse and now is the Partner’s in Children’s Health outreach coordinator for Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
Donna Lee Holton chaired the first CMN Telethon in 1989 and the “For Our Kids” campaign for the new children’s hospital. Yet she still serves cheeseburgers as a Guild volunteer in the Fireside Café.
When I finished reading this book I wondered how to best convey the message that so many of the people whose ability to see “through the eyes of a child,” have dedicated their careers to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
I think the book’s epilogue by Dr. Connors says it best.
“Beginning in the mid-1980’s a core group of individuals came together around a vision of creating a world-class children’s hospital and then stepped up to the plate to bring it to reality. Through their commitment and passion for helping children and families, they inspired many others along the way to join them.”
Note: all profits from the sale of “Through the Eyes of a Child” benefit the Spectrum Health Center for Child Protection at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.