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Centennial Celebration Marks a Long, Rich History

November 30, 2012

Johns Hopkins Children's Center Director George Dover cuts the hospital's specialty birthday cake.

In a festive day-long centennial birthday party in The Charlotte R. Bloomberg Children’s Center on Nov. 21, pediatric faculty and staff commemorated a storied history of advances in health care for children. Circus clowns entertained patients and families while volunteers handed out gift bags and slices of a custom-designed birthday cake, a replica of the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children, where the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center began its journey on Nov. 21, 1912, and the brand new Bloomberg Children’s Center, where the journey continues. View photos from the day! 

“The Johnston’s gift was really the gift that keeps on giving,” said one-time pediatrics administrator Ron Peterson, who is now president of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins Health System. He was referring to the funds Harriet Lane Johnston and her husband, Baltimore banker Henry Johnston, bequeathed to Johns Hopkins following the death of their two young sons from rheumatic fever. Dedicated to research as well as clinical care, Peterson noted, the Harriet Lane Home was the nation’s first pediatric hospital affiliated with a university hospital and housed the nation’s first academic department of pediatrics.

The centerpiece of the centennial activities was a mid-day panel discussion, led by Hopkins Children’s Center Director George Dover, that included luminaries in pediatrics like Alex Haller Jr., former pediatric surgeon-in-chief, who established at Hopkins a training program for pediatric surgery and the nation's first pediatric trauma center. Citing his delight in being “a part of this family gathering,” Haller recalled his earlier excitement on meeting one of his heroines, pediatric cardiologist Helen Taussig, in 1949 while he was a third-year medical student at Johns Hopkins.

“Helen Taussig was the first woman to lead a division of pediatric medicine in the country,” said Haller of the famed pediatric cardiologist who helped usher in the era of cardiac surgery when she suggested a design for the famous “Blue Baby” operation in the mid-1940s. “She impressed upon me early in my career the importance of families in the care of their sick children.”

Another panel member, former pediatric nursing chief Polly Hesterberg, was reminded that “behind every successful man there is a successful woman,” and described nursing’s historic role at Johns Hopkins. As a nursing student at Johns Hopkins in 1951, she was asked by Taussig – ever the teacher – to listen to a child’s heart murmur to detect the indications of pulmonary stenosis. Years later, Hesterberg would find, while antiquing in Frederick, Md., an over-bed table that once belonged to Taussig, and wondered what functions of the heart were once diagramed upon it.

Paul Lietman, M.D., Ph.D., professor emeritus of the departments of Medicine, Pharmacology and Molecular Sciences, and Pediatrics – and the first pediatric chief resident in the CMSC – recounted insightful learning experiences with teachers like famed pediatric hematologist William Zinkham and former chief surgical resident David Sabiston, who went on to become chairman of the Department of Surgery at Duke University School of Medicine. When others believed a dying young female patient was suffering from then un-treatable leukemia, Zinkham and Sabiston discovered through dogged pursuit that she in fact had a treatable abdominal infection. Years later, Zinkham and Lietman would be invited to that patient’s wedding.

Beryl Rosenstein, who served as director of the Johns Hopkins Cystic Fibrosis Center and vice president for Medical Affairs at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, recalled his own astonishment at what he say, in 1961, as a prospective pediatrics resident at Johns Hopkins. Visiting Saturday Grand Rounds to hear interns present their cases, he found himself in the company of the legendary Taussig, Victor McKusick and Lawson Wilkins, all active participants in the ensuing discussions. Wilkins had established the first pediatric endocrine clinic in 1935, and McKusick was on his way to becoming a world leader in the new field of human genetics.

“I said to myself, 'Oh my God, this is the place I want to do my pediatric training',” Rosenstein recalled. “And I was not disappointed.”

During his subsequent years as a pediatric resident in the Harriet Lane, Rosenstein would be called to examine a patient with rickets, considered rare in those days. He built up the courage, he said, to ask then semi-retired pediatrician Edwards Park, the renowned expert on the once common childhood disease, if he would look at the patient. The former director of the Harriet Lane Home, Park had established in the mid-1930s some of the nation’s first pediatric specialty clinics, including cardiology, endocrinology, epilepsy, tuberculosis and psychiatry.

“With his white starched coat on, he looked very stately as he stood by the crib side examining the patient and talking with us about rickets,” Rosenstein said. “It was a wonderful experience.”

Touching on other aspects of the Children’s Center’s history, Rosenstein noted that when the Harriet Lane opened in 1912, it was the only service at Johns Hopkins in which patients were not segregated by race. Also, it was the only service in the 1960s that had a significant number of women house officers.

Given the virulence of many of the infectious diseases afflicting children at the time, Rosenstein recalled, children were isolated by contagion. To accommodate them, the Harriet Lane Home was designed with “fresh air” porches to speed up their recovery.

The past 50 years at Johns Hopkins have brought about dramatic changes in pediatric medicine and especially in the role of the family. When the Harriet Lane gave way to a new building, The Children’s Medical and Surgical Center (CMSC) in 1964, CMSC became the first service at Johns Hopkins Hospital to allow families to stay overnight with patients. Today, at the insistence of early pioneers like Polly Hesterberg and pediatric nurses, families are recognized as integral members of their children’s health care team, with parents even joining the medical rounds and discussion of their individual child’s case.

Former Child Life Director Jerriann Wilson, who Peterson said organized at CMSC one of the best Child Life programs in the country, cited the exciting evolution of play therapy in the CMSC. “We were expanding play through closed circuit TV, clown- and dog-therapy programs, and through the use of play dolls in preparing children for procedures,” she said. “It resulted in very dramatic and effective ways for children to gain some control over their medical life.”

Jerry Winkelstein, one-time chief resident and former director of the Eudowood Division of Allergy and Immunology, noted that many of the common causes of admissions in CMSC’s early years – including dehydration and diarrhea, ingestions and poisonings, and chicken pox and whooping cough – are not very common today. “Most of these disorders no longer require hospitalization,” Winkelstein said. “Now they are either preventable or treatable.”

Following the panel discussion, as he prepared to cut into the birthday cake custom-designed by local bakery Cakes 2-A-T, George Dover offered a final salutation: “We’re really celebrating 100 years of phenomenal people today, especially the patients and their families. Their strengths have made all of us better people and physicians.”

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