Caring for Infants

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During a visit to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center on Nov. 7 to receive an award honoring his contributions to muscular dystrophy research and care, comedian Jerry Lewis told a story about his 10-year-old daughter Danielle's understanding of fame after people at a mall asked her father for his autograph.

Later, at home, she asked him to sign 25 cards, he said. The next day, Danielle's teacher called Mr. Lewis and told him his daughter was selling the autographs for 25 cents a piece. Although he felt chagrined initially, Danielle surprised her father with a bag of quarters to donate to the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the group he has chaired for 50 years. "Children remind us that life is good," Mr. Lewis said.

Mr. Lewis' anecdote was an apt closing for the semiannual meeting of the Health Sciences Advisory Council, which this fall focused on children's health and had presentations from faculty in obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, and neurology. Council members are a group of distinguished individuals drawn from the friends of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. The meeting also is a chance for members to become familiar with the ongoing research and treatment programs at CPMC and to recognize individuals who make contributions to healthcare.

This fall, the council honored Mr. Lewis with its Award for Distinguished Service, in tribute to the $1.8 billion his Muscular Dystrophy Association telethons have raised for neuromuscular disorders research.

Dr. Mary D'Alton, Virgil G. Damon Professor and Interim Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology, began the scientific talks. She explained how advances in perinatal care, such as ventilators designed for newborns, ultrasound equipment and MRIs that can detect abnormalities before birth, and, most importantly, cooperation between tertiary medical centers and community hospitals have improved the newborn survival rate over the past 20 years. Dr. D'Alton also described plans to create a center for prenatal pediatrics to provide innovative fetal treatments for conditions diagnosed before birth. In addition, this center, a collaboration of the obstetrics/gynecology, neonatology and surgery faculty, would emphasize the necessary psychological support for the parents before and after birth.

Dr. Charles Kleinman, professor of pediatrics in obstetrics and gynecology, elaborated on how ultrasound enables diagnosis of cardiac problems in fetuses and, thus allows physicians to treat heart rhythm disturbances and heart failure before birth. Dr. Kleinman was recruited to develop the prenatal pediatrics center.

Dr. Marc Patterson, professor of clinical neurology and pediatrics, noted that molecular biology and imaging techniques have improved understanding and diagnosis of many pediatric disorders, such as autism and muscular dystrophy. But further research is required before doctors can provide accurate diagnosis and effective therapy for every child with neurological dysfunction.

Dr. Rudolph L. Leibel, professor of pediatrics and medicine, sounded the alarm about the epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes. Dr. Leibel described how his studies of mice have identified some of the genes and hormones involved in weight regulation. He noted that even though genes determine a large proportion of susceptibility to obesity and diabetes, the genes need a favorable environment to cause problems. Among the major environmental factors are sedentary lifestyle and high-calorie diets.

Also during the meeting, Dr. Gerald Fischbach, executive vice president and dean, and Dr. Herbert Pardes, president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, presented Henry L. King, outgoing council chairman, with a gift to thank him for his seven years of service. John K. Castle, a trustee of NYPH, will take over as council chairman.

Dr. Fischbach additionally spoke about the newly completed strategic plan, which is now available online at The plan addresses how Health Sciences should strengthen its research, education, and patient care activities while addressing the need for more space for these activities. At the council meeting, he highlighted how the Irving Cancer Research Center and a new building for biotechnology research in the Audubon Biomedical Science and Technology Park will provide more laboratory space.

Dr. Pardes shared the good news that the hospital improved its score on its recent accreditation inspection that assesses patient care and mentioned the first Pollin Prize for Pediatric Research, a new award given annually for achievements in pediatric research (see related story). He also introduced Dr. John Driscoll, Ruben S. Carpentier Professor and Chairman of Pediatrics, who described the construction of the Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital of NYPH, which will open in the fall of 2003. The new 233,000-square-foot building will have 100 medical and surgical beds, 41 pediatric intensive care beds, 50 neonatal intensive care beds, and one floor of basic research space to put pediatric investigators close to clinical faculty.