Clinical care defined Seattle Children’s first 100 years — research defines our second.
Seattle Children's Hospital was born from the power of a mother’s grief. In 1898, a Seattle mom lost her 6-year-old son to inflammatory rheumatism. Nine years later, she rallied 23 female friends to help establish the first children’s hospital in the Pacific Northwest so no child would have to experience what her son had.
Nearly 100 years later, that same fierce determination led several board members — mothers whose own children had ailments that medicine could not yet solve — to advocate that pediatric research play a major role at the hospital.
Rhoda Altom, whose 7-year-old daughter began having severe seizures in 1996 and was diagnosed with a brain tumor, was one of those board members.
Born of a mother’s determination
“I scoured the U.S. for an academic medical center doing pediatric brain tumor research and found out no one was doing anything,” says Altom. “I also learned that only 5% of all NIH funding is spent on research for pediatric illnesses. It was devastating to realize that the illnesses of children are grossly underfunded compared to adult diseases.”
So Altom began raising funds to start the nation’s first pediatric brain tumor tissue bank at Seattle Children’s. The repository serves all scientists and promotes collaborative research. At the same time, she and several other board members began to push for a dedicated research facility.
“Mapping of the human genome wrapped up in 2000, and it was a catalyst. We all agreed that the time was right to invest in pediatric research,” she recalls.
In 2003, Children’s board changed the organization’s mission to emphasize the goals of preventing, treating and eliminating pediatric illness and injury.
The new charter gave the board license to invest in research — a big step toward delivering better care and treatment at the bedside.
“Our strong research program helps us recruit and retain the best and brightest physicians who are dedicated to curing pediatric diseases,” says Jim Hendricks, PhD, president of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
“We used to wonder if we could do research, and now it’s at our core,” says Altom. “Clinical care defined our first hundred years, and research will define our second. We not only want to treat, we want to cure.”