History of MassGeneral Hospital for Children

The story of MassGeneral Hospital for Children begins long before the hospital received its current name; it begins 200 years ago, with the establishment of Massachusetts General Hospital.

The first child admitted to Mass General was an 11-year-old girl, brought in December 20, 1821, just three months after the arrival of the first patient. At that time no separate pediatric service existed, but children were often victims of diseases that were rampant in the region. With this in mind, Fritz Bradley Talbot, MD, founded the Children’s Medical Service at Mass General in 1910.

Fritz B. Talbot, MD, founding chief of the Children's Medical Service, with his grandchildren.

Fritz B. Talbot, MD, founding chief of the Children's Medical Service, with his grandchildren.

Talbot’s challenges were great. Parents were hesitant to have their children cared for in a hospital, a place at that time considered for the poor and destitute. Unforeseen events such as war and the Great Depression significantly impacted the nation and the development of pediatric care at Mass General.

Nevertheless, the extraordinary vision and perseverance of the hospital’s pediatric caregivers enabled the Children’s Medical Service to grow and flourish. The service grew to include the complete range of pediatric services, offering improved, family-centered care. The creation of a pediatric surgery division in 1962 paved the way for additional medical innovations including tissue engineering and minimally invasive procedures. The Children’s Medical Service was renamed the Children’s Service to accommodate the Division of Surgery.

In 1999, the Children’s Service was renamed MassGeneral Hospital for Children, and today the hospital serves more than 170,000 children every year through 50 medical specialties and 15 surgical services.
Timeline

Year Event
1910 Fritz B. Talbot, MD, founds the Children’s Medical Service; Talbot appoints the first “Play Lady,” a role that evolved into what is today known as a Child Life specialist.
1912 Fritz B. Talbot, MD, with Francis Gano Benedict, PhD, develops the respiratory calorimeter to measure carbon dioxide production and oxygen consumption, even in newborns.
1915 Fritz B. Talbot, MD, ensures that ambulances begin safely carrying children.
1917 A munitions ship explodes in Halifax Harbour, Nova Scotia, killing about 2,000 people and injuring more than 9,000. Several Boston surgeons rally to that disaster, including surgeon William Ladd, MD, who as a result chose to focus on pediatric surgery and was later considered the father of pediatric surgery in North America.
1918 Fritz B. Talbot, MD, appoints Mary Wright as a house pupil. She is the first woman appointed to any service at Mass General.
1932 Harold Leonard Higgins, MD, is appointed chief of the Children’s Medical Service.
1942
Allan Macy Butler, MD, is appointed chief of the Children’s Medical Service; The Cocoanut Grove Nightclub fire, the deadliest in US history, occurs down the street from the hospital, leading to advances in burn expertise.
1948 The Vincent/Burnham building opens with 84 beds, many of them allotted to infants, toddlers and older children.
1954 A Time Magazine article highlights Mass General’s use of positron imaging in a child to detect and localize a tumor, which was then successfully treated.
1960 A pediatric surgical unit is created at Mass General under W. Hardy Hendren III, MD.
1960s Community health centers are developed in Charlestown, Chelsea and Revere.
1962 Nathan B. Talbot, MD, is appointed chief; Pediatric surgery division is established; The Children’s Medical Service is renamed the Children’s Service; Surgeon Ronald Malt, MD, performs the first successful reattachment of a human limb, on a 12-year-old boy.
1960-1970 Specialty capabilities launch in cardiology, hematology-oncology, genetics, gastroenterology, infectious disease, intensive care (both newborn and child), trauma and burn care, developmental biology, pulmonary pathophysiology, immunology, neurology, pathology, radiology, surgery (including several subspecialties), anesthesia and nephrology.
1968 A 30-bed Shriner’s Burn Hospital opens.
1969 Eric Furmann, MD, leads the Mass General anesthesia team in the first successful separation of complex Siamese twins in Boston.
1977 Donald N. Medearis, MD, is appointed chief of the Children’s Service.
1980 The first clinical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner is installed at Mass General.
1988 The Child Life specialist is officially recognized in a broader role supporting the child and family during all phases of medical care.
1995 R. Alan B. Ezekowitz, MBChB, DPhil, FAAP, is appointed chief of the Children’s Service.
1999 The Children’s Service is renamed MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC).
2003 Joseph P. Vacanti, MD, is appointed surgeon in chief of MGHfC.
2007 Ronald E. Kleinman, MD, is appointed physician in chief of MGHfC.

MassGeneral Hospital for Children Heroes

Though many individuals contributed to the formation and growth of MassGeneral Hospital for Children, we’ve chosen to highlight the seven founding chiefs of the pediatric service and three founders of the pediatric surgery division.

Fritz Bradley Talbot, MD  (Chief of Children’s Medical Service: 1910-1932)
The founding chief of the Children’s Medical Service at Mass General, Talbot promoted the development of coordinated home care by both nursing and social services. With his team he developed the term “allergy” and his research of children’s responses to food and skin tests became the worldwide standard and the basis of the allergy-immunology specialty. Talbot initiated an ambulance service for children and, with the aid of his wife, a directory of wet nurses, lauded as both a resource for mothers unable to breastfeed their babies and an employment opportunity for women. Talbot explored treatments for epilepsy, including the benefits of a ketogenic diet-- a diet high in fats. He was active nationally in advocating for safe treatment of pediatric patients and advocated for a team approach to treatment. In his 22 years as chief, the uses of new technologies such as X-Rays and measurements of body chemistry changed the way physicians understood and treated diseases.
 

Harold Leonard Higgins, MD Harold Leonard Higgins, MD (Chief of Children’s Medical Service: 1932-1942)
Higgins was a physiological chemist, pediatrician and professor of pediatrics, whose early research focused on physiology and included work on metabolism, respiration and gas analysis. After earning his medical degree and shifting to pediatrics, Higgins’ areas of interest expanded to include feeding and nutrition, diabetes, epilepsy and intestinal disorders. Higgins arrived at the Children’s Medical Service during the depression, which made his job increasingly difficult. He identified progeria, a rare genetic disorder that causes children to age rapidly, in three generations of a family. He also developed an interest in applications of Pavlov’s conditioning ideas to contemporary child care.

Allan Macy Butler, MD (Chief of Children’s Medical Service: 1942-1960)
Butler was not only a consummate physician scientist, teacher-mentor and administrator, but also an advocate for the rights of man. A dedicated humanist, Butler aimed to better the lives of both children and adults. Just before becoming chief at Mass General, Butler organized the White Cross, a prepaid health insurance program linking 25,000 patients with 150 Mass General physicians. Butler also established a laboratory at the Boston Psychopathic Hospital to identify pharmaceuticals that could prevent malaria and, with government funding, developed protocols to establish optimal life-raft rations for those whose boats were torpedoed or whose planes were shot down in the Atlantic Ocean. Butler was also placed in charge of Mass General’s Clinical Chemistry Laboratories. By 1950 he had made significant contributions, including discovering the use of potassium in correction of dehydration and the association between renal disease and hypertension. In 1952 Butler founded the Ross Conferences, an annual research conference sponsored by Ross Laboratories that covered advances meant to better the lives of children. Butler’s many accomplishments as chief are especially remarkable because he assumed his role during the Great Depression.

W. Hardy Hendren III, MDW. Hardy Hendren III, MD (Chief of Pediatric Surgery: 1960- )
Pediatric Surgery was not a recognized specialty in most of North America in 1960 when Hendren came on to establish the division at the Children’s Medical Service. With direction from Edward D. Churchill, MD, chief of surgery at Mass General, Hendren set out to attract a patient base and a cadre of referring doctors, recruit other surgeons, and add an experimental laboratory and fellows to work in it. Hendren accepted numerous speaking invitations throughout New England, in which he lectured on many subjects, including intestinal obstruction in neonates, pediatric tumors and pediatric thoracic problems, supplementing his lectures with slides collected during his eight years of residency. These lectures brought additional patients to Mass General. Hendren is an Honorary Surgeon at Mass General and the Robert Gross Distinguished Professor at Harvard Medical School. A chair in surgery was recently established at Harvard in his name.

Nathan Talbot, MDNathan B. Talbot, MD (Chief of Children’s Service: 1962-1977)
Talbot served as acting chief when Allan Butler retired in 1960. Following in the footsteps of his father, Fritz Talbot, MD, Nathan Talbot was appointed chief in 1962. He received the Charles Wilder Professorship at Harvard Medical School two years later. Talbot oversaw the launch of more than a dozen subspecialties, including pediatric intensive care. Talbot appointed Daniel Shannon, MD, to found and develop intensive care for infants and children. Talbot felt that this was his most significant accomplishment during his tenure as chief, increasing the presence of the pediatric service at Mass General through strong associations with the Departments of Anesthesia and Surgery and attracting new faculty and residents. During his tenure, Talbot convinced the hospital’s trustees to change the name from the Children’s Medical Service to the Children’s Service because of the addition of pediatric surgical services. Talbot also initiated “Total Patient Care Grand Rounds,” which brought together various specialists to discuss patient cases. Talbot had a powerful and unrelenting focus on psychosocial malnutrition, and formed a series of inter-faculty seminars to explore the integration of social and behavioral science into pediatric practice.
 
Patricia DonahoePatricia Donahoe, MD (Chief of Pediatric Surgery: 1973-2003)
Donahoe came to Mass General from the laboratory of Judah Folkman, MD, in 1970. She studied pediatric surgery and pediatric urology before joining Mass General’s pediatric surgery division in 1973. Donahoe declined multiple offers to run a pediatric surgical service elsewhere in order to pursue her goals of discovery at Mass General. Donahoe’s research in developmental biology was, and continues to be, largely funded by competitive NIH grants. Donahoe's research program has been aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms of growth in utero. She has published more than 230 peer-reviewed publications in developmental biology concentrating on the gonadal hormone Mullerian Inhibiting Substance (MIS) as a potential agent against ovarian cancer, the genetics of sex differentiation and a number of other congenital anomalies. Donahoe and her colleagues hold a number of patents on MIS and they are partnering with biotechnology firms to evaluate its use in ovarian cancer patients. Donahoe has garnered numerous awards for her accomplishments, among them Marshall K. Bartlett tenured Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School; member of the National Academy of Sciences; recipient of the Fred Conrad Koch Award, given by the Endocrine Society; president of the Boston Surgical Society; president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association; recipient of the Flance-Karl Award of the American Surgical Association; and the naming of the Dr. Patricia Donahoe Professorship in Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Donald N. Medearis, MD Donald N. Medearis, MD (Chief of Children’s Service: 1977-1995)
Medearis came to the Children’s Service having already been chief both at Pittsburgh Children’s Hospital and Rainbow Babies Hospital in Cleveland. Trained in both pediatrics and infectious diseases, Medearis saw to advances in the emergency care delivered to children both at Mass General and nationwide. Medearis recognized the value of family-centered care and developed a medicine/pediatric residency program at Mass General in which to emphasize this kind of care. Medearis pursued an interest in the ethical behavior of professionals in medicine as well as biomedical and behavioral research by becoming chair of the President’s Commission with that purpose. Recognizing that the Children’s Service lacked a psychiatry program, Medearis appointed Michael Jellinek, MD, to develop a clinical and research focus in that field. Medearis was also well known for his constant use of the phrase “show me the data.

R. Alan B. Ezekowitz, MBChB, DPhil, FAAP (Chief of MassGeneral Hospital for Children: 1995-2006)
Ezekowitz came to the Mass General from Children’s Hospital Boston as an internationally recognized investigator in the field of innate immunology. He made significant contributions to our understanding of vascular malformations and the role of the innate immune system in host protection. He recruited Howard Weinstein, MD, to lead the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology and Emmett Schmidt, MD, as director of the Residency Training Program. A signficant effort was made to bring together pediatric care in affiliated community hospitals and health centers, the Newborn Services at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) to provide seamless primary and specialty care for all infants and children in the Partners network. During his tenure the name of the Children’s Service changed to MGHfC, and was designated the tertiary service of the Partners Health Care System for pediatrics. The administrative offices of MGHfC relocated to 175 Cambridge Street, with all division chiefs within the same building and on the same floor for enhanced collaboration.
 
Joseph P. VacantiJoseph P. Vacanti, MD (Surgeon in Chief, MassGeneral Hospital for Children: 2003-Present)
Vacanti returned to Mass General, where he had trained, in 1999. His career has included starting an entire new field of research, tissue engineering, in which he has been working since the early 1980s. Vacanti’s mission stems from his long-held interest in solving the problem of organ shortages. Through tissue engineering, a field that combines science, medicine and engineering, living replacements for organs and bodily tissues are designed and built. As of 2007, more than a million patients worldwide had been treated with some form of commercial, tissue-regenerative products. For his work in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, Vacanti received the John Scott Medal, awarded by the City of Philadelphia, and more recently, the prestigious Flance-Karl Award, presented by the American Surgical Association. He now holds the prestigious John Homans Chair in Surgery at Harvard Medical School.

Ronald E. KleinmanRonald Kleinman, MD (Physician in Chief, MassGeneral Hospital for Children: 2007-Present)
Kleinman joined Mass General in 1977 as a clinical and research fellow in the Pediatric Gastroenterology & Nutrition Unit. He has served as chief of Gastroenterology and Nutrition since 1986 and has edited four textbooks. Kleinman’s early scientific research focused on gastrointestinal immunology and immune tolerance to enteric antigens. More recently he has done significant research into the effects of hunger on the psychosocial performance and health of school-age children. Kleinman has distinguished himself through numerous contributions to Mass General’s management and governance. As Charles Wilder Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, Kleinman has also served as a Trustee of the Physicians Organization and he currently sits on the boards of Project Bread and the Global Child Nutrition Foundation. He has served as chair of the Committee on Nutrition for the American Academy of Pediatrics and is a Past President of the International Society of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

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