Retiring physician led the “Riley way”

Riley 100 |

06/28/2023

Boyleweb1

Humility, compassion and sometimes a dose of humor were Dr. David Boyle’s trademarks during his 34-year career caring for fragile babies.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Gone fishing.

That’s what Dave Boyle might say if you’re looking for him next week, next month or next year.

He’s been a renowned neonatologist at Riley Children’s Health for 34 years, but Dr. Boyle doesn’t want any fanfare as he prepares to step away from an illustrious career. He retires June 30.

Following the example of many of his fellow Riley physicians, he would rather avoid the spotlight, preferring to focus on patient care, research, education and community outreach.

Dr. Boyle admits he didn’t even want to sit down for this interview but eventually agreed, thanks to gentle persuasion from colleagues.

As for a retirement party, it could be a while. Perhaps September. And even then, he joked, he might be fishing.

He proudly shows a photo saved on his phone of his wife, Maureen, holding a giant northern pike she caught. The two met as teenagers in New Jersey when both worked at the local pool.

Fishing is a way to let go of worry, he said.

“It’s a great release.”

If you’re going fishing to catch fish, you’re doing it wrong, he once told a colleague.

“I still want to catch fish, but that’s not why I do it.”

After high school, a young Boyle would go on to college at the University of Notre Dame, medical school back in New Jersey and pediatric residency at Yale University/New Haven (Conn.) Hospital.

During med school, he worked for a landscaping company, and that’s when he found that cutting grass gave him the same Zen feeling as fishing. That’s why you can still find him out cutting a perfect lawn at his home.

LANDING AT RILEY

After a fellowship in neonatal-perinatal medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, he and Maureen landed in Indianapolis at IU School of Medicine and Riley Hospital for Children.

That was in the summer of 1989.

“Back when my wife and I visited here, we said, ‘Can people really be that nice?’ And yes, people really are that nice here,” he said. “Jim Lemons hired me. Jim was very good about letting you be productive wherever it was you wanted to be productive."

Still, the couple never expected to be here for the next 34 years.

There were opportunities to leave. Loftier titles, bigger hospitals. But ultimately, Dr. Boyle said, “The grass was never going to be greener somewhere else.”

In 1990, the couple, who already had one child, welcomed the birth of quadruplets, quite a big deal then and now. Two of those quads work within the IU Health system.

He and his family didn’t have the benefit of the Riley Maternity Tower 33 years ago, but he considers the tower an example of Riley at its best. It took a lot of work, a lot of time and a lot of collaboration, but it goes a long way toward providing the best care for mom and baby in even the most challenging medical situations.

FROM “LITTLE BROTHER” TO MENTOR

He wore many hats during his tenure at Riley and IU School of Medicine, including serving as associate division chief of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine alongside current division chief Dr. Laura Haneline, who counts Dr. Boyle as not just a colleague, but a friend.

“I will miss his passion for mentorship and excellence in maternity and neonatal care, and I will miss having a great friend to share daily the Riley neonatology journey,” she said.

Among the most rewarding of his roles while at Riley was as director of the division’s fellowship training program, he said. Stewarding young physicians through the program was a valuable experience.

“We pounded humility in them,” Dr. Boyle said. “Your patients will make you humble.”

He was the “little brother” when he joined what was a six-physician neonatology group at Riley, he says, younger by three or four years to the likes of Dr. Ed Liechty and Dr. Bill Engle (both of whom retired in the past two years).

“They all played a role in mentoring me,” he said.

He would pay that forward beyond the fellowship director role, building a niche in mentoring junior and mid-level faculty.

Now the division counts close to 50 physicians under its umbrella.

“SUPERB TEACHER”

Dr. Jim Lemons, who is 45 years into his career as a neonatologist with Riley, considers Dr. Boyle “the best of the best.”

“Fabulous physician and team member, great mentor and role model, superb teacher, advocate and voice for the underserved, and a passionate golfer and fisherman,” is how Dr. Lemons describes him.

“Dave is honest and insightful, sharing his questions and thoughts directly, and always with great humor.”

Many people who took the time to share comments about Dr. Boyle mentioned his humor, including Keva Rop with IU School of Medicine.

“He has led with grace and good humor and is a joy in our office,” Rop wrote.

Recently retired NICU nurse Deb Hutchison remembers that dry humor as a “pick-me-up” on some difficult days.

“His manner at the bedside could be light-hearted or appropriately serious, but always decisive,” she recalled.

It was Dr. Boyle who first mentioned Hutchison in his interview. He was talking about the “Riley way” – that humility again – and how people are always willing to help people in need. He and his wife are devotees of “Ted Lasso,” and the message of “team first, individual last” resonates.

“We don’t really brag about what we do here,” he said, which can be a blessing and a curse. The latter because Riley sometimes doesn’t get its due in the national conversation about best pediatric hospitals, even though it is consistently ranked as among the best in the country.

But what he knows is that people here look out for one another, he said.

“I think about someone like Deb Hutchison – she taught me how to be a better doctor. I learned so much from her about how to really connect with a family.”

In turn, Hutchison said, Dr. Boyle encouraged and respected nurses’ input. And parents appreciated him “because he listened, was honest and gave them credit for their knowledge of and ability to care for their baby.”

A SPECIAL PLACE

It’s that patient/family connection that he will miss the most, along with the kindness he witnessed every day, said the retiring physician.

He shows a ring on his finger that is close to his heart.

“This is my great-grandmother’s wedding ring, and there was one day when I lost it on the unit.”

An environmental services team member found it and brought it back to him.

Acts of kindness like that make Riley a place “where you want to come to work every day,” he said.

“Not that there’s not conflict, but everybody has the same objective: Take care of our patients, take care of our parents, do the best we can.”

Humility aside, he and his colleagues are an accomplished bunch.

Nationally, Dr. Boyle held key leadership positions within the American Academy of Pediatrics and the International Liaison Committee on Resuscitation to establish best evidence-based practice for neonatal resuscitation.

He was Riley’s first Fetal Center medical director and was a staunch advocate of developing the Fetal Intervention Program that launched this past year. He also served as the Riley Maternity Newborn Health Service Line medical director and established Riley’s Perinatal Center to assist the state in reducing maternal and infant mortality.

The latter cause is a passion project of his, and he will continue that work with the development of Cradle Indy, a community-wide initiative to address infant mortality in Marion County.

“Riley is the backbone organization, but we want all the healthcare organizations in the city to be involved,” he said of the program, which is modeled after a similar one in Cincinnati.

So, while Friday marks the end of the physician’s three-decade career at Riley, he will continue working toward better outcomes for babies in Indianapolis and beyond.

That still leaves him a little time to cut the grass, travel and fish, of course.

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org