PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — As Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC celebrates its 125th anniversary this week, it’s fitting to remember that the idea for a Pittsburgh hospital exclusively for kids came from … a kid.
Kirk LeMoyne – a pediatrician’s son – is the child who started it all. When he was 11, he decided Pittsburgh needed a children’s hospital. So he and some friends started raising money. By 1887 they had enough to endow a one-kid-only cot at the Western Pennsylvania Hospital.
But the fundraising took off. By 1889 there was enough to buy property near where Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC is today. And in June of 1890, the Pittsburgh Hospital for Children opened with 15 beds.
“I think it’s fascinating, first of all, that this hospital really started as one cot in an adult hospital,” says Dr. Steven Docimo, the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer today.
In 1926, the hospital moved to the location most Pittsburghers will remember – Fifth Avenue and De Soto Street in Oakland. It was the first member of what would become the University of Pittsburgh Medical Campus.
The decades that followed saw the hospital staff fighting a profound battle against polio, until a Pitt researcher changed the world. Dr. Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine brought international acclaim to Pitt and Children’s Hospital.
In the 1960s and ’70s, the hospital’s influence again spread far and wide with another lifesaving effort. The internationally-known “Mr. Yuk” symbol was created right here to promote poison prevention.
And in the 1980s, the medical world again focused on Pittsburgh and the work of the legendary Dr. Thomas Starzl. Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh became the world pioneer in pediatric liver transplantation, and today maintains the largest program with the best success rates.
It was 2009 when they picked up and moved from Oakland to the current Children’s Hospital campus in Lawrenceville.
But for all of the advances, all of the technological leaps and bounds, Dr. Docimo says what has made working here most rewarding is the connection with the kids. The bonds formed, the battles endured together, the victories savored together over all these many years.
“On my desk right now I have a letter from a former patient who’s just entering [physician’s assistant] school, so going into health care,” says Dr. Docimo. “I have a wedding invitation from someone I operated on 25 years ago. The beauty of taking care of children is that we get to watch them develop. They’re like our own children in many ways. It’s incredibly rewarding.”
One thing that’s been consistent over these 125 years for Children’s Hospital is community support. The hospital was founded with the promise that no child from the tri-state area would be denied care due to an inability to pay. It’s the “Free Care Fund” that makes that possible.
KDKA-TV viewers have been contributing to the fund for 62 years during our annual Free Care Friends Telethon. Our fundraising total to date is more than $60 million.
But no discussion of the history of Children’s Hospital would be complete without mentioning Albert Lexie – the now retired hospital shoeshine man from Monessen. Lexie contributed all of his tips over more than 31 years to the Free Care Fund. He retired in 2013, having pitched in more than $220,000.
Says Lexie, echoing the feelings of countless donors to the fund, “It feels good when you do something for the kids.”