Then & Now: Exploring Riley Children’s Impact Through the Years

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Since its inception in 1924, Riley Children’s Health has been a leading hub for innovation and discovery, driven by a steadfast commitment to enhancing pediatric healthcare for children and their families. Through decades of history, see how our most pivotal moments in time have geared pediatric medicine to where it is today.

Pioneering diversity, equity and inclusion

In a time marked by social inequity, Riley Children’s Health emerges as a leader in addressing medical injustice. In 1921, the James Whitcomb Riley Memorial Hospital Bill passed, authorizing the pediatric institution to treat children under 16 from any Indiana county, regardless of income or race who are “afflicted with a defect, disease or deformity, presumably curable or needing a special study for diagnosis." While rare at the time, this marks Riley Children’s as one of the earliest institutions to accept all children, where race should not be a topic of consideration when it comes to accessing healthcare.

As a result of the bill, in 1983, the Gaither quintuplets, who are transferred to the NICU at Riley Children’s, are known as the first surviving, naturally conceived Black quintuplets in the U.S. Also wanting to improve the cultural experience for team members, in 1972, John A. “Jack” Smith, MD is named the first Black faculty physician and the first Black tenured professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine. Likewise, in 1976, Eric Yancy becomes the first Black pediatric resident to work at the NICU at Riley Children’s.

Man in cowboy hat speaking to two black children in hospital beds

This commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion is equally important for women. Four years after Riley Children’s opened its doors, Martha Chandley Souter, MD, makes history by being appointed the first female faculty member in the department of pediatrics. As assistant of pediatrics in 1928 and clinical associate professor of pediatrics in 1983, Dr. Souter’s tenure was marked by numerous achievements, with her work involving community initiatives promoting pediatric healthcare and the development of immunization campaigns. Similarly, by 1984, Karen West, MD is known as the first female pediatric surgeon at Riley Children’s, setting the stage for many female surgeons within the industry.

Amid its rich history of inclusion, Riley Children’s remains committed to its mission in creating diverse experiences for patients and team members. Presently, the hospital is actively advancing DEI efforts beyond the standard scope, where a strategic plan aims to create awareness, foster education and establish a robust reporting system, which allows patients to provide feedback about their care experience culture-wise. By learning more about how families are feeling, leaders at Riley Children’s are equipped to respond and drive change. Looking ahead, there are plans to expand upon these goals, where a DEI team will spearhead more intentional work to improve the system culturally.

Woman nurse leans over hospital bed rail of young black girl giving her the

“We are treating this with as much rigor as we do other things,” Dr. Elaine Cox, MD said, chief physician executive at Riley Children’s. “DEI can’t be separate anymore. We are one of the earliest places where race was not one of the topics to be considered, and we will continue that. We treat kids, period.”


Leading decades of cardiac breakthroughs

Prior to the 1950s, open-heart procedures and treatments were significantly different from the advanced cardiac interventions today. With a lack of innovative technologies and research on cardiac care, physicians faced many challenges when treating pediatric patients. In particular, for cardiothoracic surgeons at the time, open-heart surgery was limited to only a few minutes, where these surgeries were often associated with high mortality rates.

Cardiothoracic surgeons and nurses shown performing surgery in 1950's operating room

By 1950, the launch of expert pediatric cardiology begins improving when Paul Raymond Lurie, MD, is named Indiana’s first pediatric cardiologist and the first chief of pediatric cardiology at Riley Children’s. Described as a legend and phenomenon in his field, Dr. Lurie and his team start leading a series of “firsts” within the hospital and nationwide, achieving a plethora of cardiac breakthroughs for the next few decades.

Notably, in 1956, Harris Schumaker, MD, a former cardiothoracic surgeon at Riley Children’s, performs Indiana’s first pediatric open-heart surgery, a milestone that sets the stage for more surgical methods. Furthermore, by 1962, Dr. Lurie performs the nation’s first percutaneous cardiac catheterization, and a few years later, Riley Children’s becomes the first hospital in the nation to diagnose congenital heart defects with echocardiography services. These innovative breakthroughs largely impact cardiology in the U.S., influencing many pediatric cardiologists to facilitate better heart treatments for their patients.

Continuing the cardiac excellence, John Brown, MD, another former cardiothoracic surgeon at Riley Children’s, performs Indiana’s first staged Fontan procedure in 1980. Following that, he completes the first infant and newborn heart transplantation surgery, as well as the world’s only twin-to-twin newborn transfusion heart transplantation. He later becomes the first in the U.S. to perform a bovine valve heart transplantation in 1999. Additionally, in 2003, Mark Turrentine, MD, division chief of cardiothoracic surgery at Riley Children’s, is acclaimed for being the first in Indiana and the second in the nation to implant the Berlin Heart, a ventricular-assist device that later gained FDA approval in 2011.

Young girl pictured wearing the Berlin Heart device

The Riley Heart Center today is nationally ranked in the top 20 by U.S. News & World Report for its long history of exceptional research, novel innovations, superior outcomes and more. In addition, the department is one of few in the nation capable of implanting total artificial heart in children, and it is recognized for patient outcomes with mortality rates below the national benchmark. As well, Dr. Turrentine and his team have completed more than 36 medical mission trips overseas, curing hundreds of international patients with congenital heart diseases.

Surgeon in OR performing a surgery while nurse assists

Learn more about the Riley Heart Center.


The road to family-centered care

Family-centered care, as we know it today, was not a normal practice years ago. Prior to the 1950s, hospitals had strict visiting hours and policies that limited family members’ access to patients. In some cases, parents were highly discouraged from being too involved in their child’s care, and hospitals followed prescribed policies without the input from families. Recognizing this standard took an emotional toll on both the child and the parent, it was not until Morris Green, MD, former physician-in-chief at Riley Children’s and chairman of the Indiana University School of Medicine, that the idea of family-centered care came into practice. With his legendary concept, Dr. Green’s vision believed that parents would be the central role in their child’s medical experience.

Subsequently, the significant shift to family-centered care gained momentum through the launch of The Baxter Parent Care Pavilion at Riley Children’s in 1971. Spearheaded by Dr. Green, the new unit included 12 beds and allowed parents to reside full time at the bedside. As parents stayed at the hospital, they were able to learn and gain a deeper understanding of their child’s treatment and diagnosis. Riley Children’s soon becomes the first hospital of its kind to include care revolved around the entire family, and healthcare facilities later begin adopting the method worlwide.

Mother and baby sitting on bed in a room at the Baxter Parent Care Pavilion while Father holds clipboard completing paperwork

Due to the pioneering efforts of Dr. Green, family-centered care is a well-established model and an embedded standard that is practiced in all pediatric healthcare systems today. For Riley Children’s, the concept has expanded to develop the Ronald McDonald House, a facility that allows families to stay within or near the hospital, offering overnight rooms and essential amenities. As the Ronald McDonald House stands as the largest of its kind in the nation, families can fully take part in their child’s medical journey. Also, with the recent 2021 opening of the Riley Maternity Tower, mothers and babies are cared for in the same room and no longer have to be separate. Even more, the concept of family-centered care meets the psychological and emotional needs for patients and their families.

Learn more about the Parent Care Pavilion. Learn more about the Ronald McDonald House.


Discovering cochlear implantation technology

Before the 1950s, there were limited technological advancements in the field of hearing restoration. Early researchers often experimented with hearing devices, but it was not until pioneer William F. House, MD, an otologist, that the idea of electrically stimulating the auditory nerve to provide a sense of hearing came into practice. As the proposal to learn more about sound perception became a need, Dr. House starts developing the groundwork for the potentials of cochlear implants, a small electronic device that would be surgically placed into the ear to provide an auditory sensation.

Dr. House sitting at a table holding the cochlear implant device, showing it to the camera

By 1978, Richard C. Miyamoto, MD, a former pediatric otolaryngologist at Riley Children’s and collaborator with Dr. House, begins a trailblazing clinical trial to study cochlear implants further. Participating in the trial through the House Ear Institute, results found that cochlear implants were largely beneficial for children. Dr. Miyamoto completes the first successful implantation surgery at Riley Children’s in 1983, which earns FDA approval a year later. As a result, cochlear implant technology grew rapidly, expanding to advancements from researchers worldwide. By 1985, the implants were installed in seven children, and by 2010, thousands of patients had undergone the cochlear implant procedure.

Young boy sitting on table looking at doctor who is smiling at the child with his hand on the child's shoulder

Today, cochlear implantation surgeries are performed regularly, with the cochlear implant program at Riley Children’s being internationally recognized for its expert clinical care and research. Through the program, patients undergo an initial consultation to learn more about the device. Following that, a two-to-three-hour transplant surgery is performed by a team of specialists. A pediatric speech therapist will work with the patient after surgery to fully enhance the sensory experience.

In addition to cochlear implants, fellowship-trained experts at Riley Children’s work with patients to treat any ear, nose or throat condition. Using the latest technology to perform extensive diagnostic evaluations and deliver individualized treatment, children receive only the most advanced care.

Surgeon in OR performing surgery on young child

Read more about the history of cochlear implants. Learn more about cochlear implants at Riley Children’s.


Transforming infectious diseases

Infection used to be the leading cause of death. Today, that is no longer the case.

In the early 20th century, Indiana, like many other parts of the country, grappled with challenges around infectious diseases. At that time, treatment options were limited and ineffective, as antibiotics, drugs and vaccines had not yet been developed. But as the emergence of more diseases, such as tuberculosis, polio and smallpox spread throughout Indiana and elsewhere, there became a growing need for more robust research related to these infections.

Consequently, a pivotal moment transforms the concept of infection in December 1984, when Martin Kleiman, MD, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases, begins treating patient Ryan White. Ryan, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, an infectious disease that compromises the body’s immune system, soon becomes the national focal point as the unfamiliarity of his sickness spurs the public.

Over the next five years, communities across the nation contended with fear and discrimination around HIV/AIDS as they yearn for a deeper understanding of the condition. In efforts to educate, Dr. Kleiman, Ryan and Elaine Cox, MD, chief physician executive at Riley Children’s and a medical student at the time of Ryan’s case, aim to spread awareness on the public misconceptions of HIV/AIDS. Highlighting that the disease is not easily transmissible and only spreads through bodily fluids, they mission to publicly advocate for infectious diseases as a whole. This public contribution follows a rapid trajectory, soon reaching to audiences across the U.S. wanting to know more.

Martin Kleiman, MD at podium with several microphones giving press conference

Though Ryan dies of his sickness on April 8, 1990, his legacy sparks movement for many–activists push for improved medications, researchers deepen their understanding of the disease and physicians seek more effective care for their patients. Additionally, Ryan’s case marks the development of the Ryan White CARE Act in 1990, which aims to largely support individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

Martin Kleiman, MD posing for photograph with Ryan White

Through the impactful work behind Ryan, Dr. Kleiman and Dr. Cox, pediatric infectious diseases at Riley Children’s today are researched at The Ryan White Center for Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Global Health. Directed by Chandy C. John, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist, the center missions to improve the health of children in Indiana and worldwide through infectious disease clinical care, research and training.

In addition to its focus on HIV/AIDS, the center has expanded its research to analyze other infectious diseases. Studies delve into malaria, where the center explores the topic to understand why children develop it and to analyze the effects of changing transmission on immunity. Additionally, with parallels drawn between the responses to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the recent COVID-19 outbreak, the center focuses on COVID-19 studies to research the prevalence of antibodies, asymptomatic carriages in the community and the development of immunity.

Nurse using stethoscope to listen to young girl's heart while mother looks on

“The benefits of Ryan’s journey are huge,” Dr. Cox said. “He brought a face to infectious diseases and changed medicine in general–making it faster and developing treatment in less than 25 years. Without Ryan, physicians’ responses to COVID-19 and cases alike would not have happened as quickly.”

Learn more about The Ryan White Center for Infectious Diseases and Global Health.

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Mark W. Turrentine, MD

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Elaine G. Cox, MD

Pediatric Infectious Disease

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Chandy C. John, MD

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