Mary Cote, M.D.
East Falls Historical Society Oral History Interview
Interviewee: Mary Cote, M.D. (MC)
Interviewers: Wendy Moody (WM) and Katy Hineline (KH)
Date: February 18. 2022
Transcriber: Wendy Moody
WM: It is February 18, 2022 and Wendy Moody and Katy Hineline are interviewing Dr. Mary Cote in her apartment (at Cathedral Village). Thank you very much, Dr. Cote, for speaking to us. We thought we would begin by asking you a little bit about your life before you came to East Falls – where you grew up, maybe a little about your parents and schooling – before we talk about East Falls.
MC: I grew up in western Massachusetts, near Springfield, near the Berkshires. My father had a printing business there. And I went to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which is their flagship college, right in Amherst and the two schools are much related. I did not want to be a physician at first but then I worked for a doctor and decided that’s what I wanted to do. I had to make up courses like lots of people who now go to Bryn Mawr College, but they have a whole program for that, but I went to Cornell. They told me to go to a prestigious graduate school, so I did, and then I came here to Woman’s Medical College.
WM: What year did you graduate Cornell?
MC: I graduated in 1959.
WM: What brought you to Woman’s Medical?
MC: Well I applied to several colleges and I only got accepted by two and this was the better one, so I came.
WM: Tell us about your studies there. Where did you live?
MC: I lived, first of all, on the street next to Queen Lane.
KH: Penn Street?
MC: Yes, Penn Street, in the home of a woman who had been widowed and retired and had a couple of students living there.
WM: Do you remember her name?
MC: I’m trying to think of it. I would walk to classes – I had a bicycle, and in those days, you could do that too. In so doing, I walked from Penn Street over to Queen Lane and walked down to the junction of Henry Avenue, going past the home of Dr. Marion Fay (note: 1898 – 1990), the Dean and President, and, next door to her, the Antrims – Walter Antrim (note: 1891 – 1972) was the designer of the Queen Lane Pumping Station. And he decided to just live there after he retired.
WM: How interesting. What courses were you taking?
MC: Well, they’re all standard for the first four years, really. It’s kind of a core curriculum the whole time. You have to learn general medicine before you can specialize. We went through a period when you didn’t, so everyone became a highly paid specialist without knowing general medicine, so that’s why you have to go through all of it.
WM: How many years were you a student there?
MC: Four years and then I graduated. And I did an internship at Episcopal Hospital, and then I did residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. And right here, somewhere, is a picture (shows photo). I was on the faculty afterwards. So I’m in this group here – one of these women.
WM: What did you decide to specialize in?
MC: I wanted to be a pediatrician because I wanted to work with children, but I didn’t want to be just a teacher. But teaching was the best part of my whole career, and I enjoyed having little retinues of students coming after me!
WM: So did you become a pediatrician?
MC: Yes I did. And I became a sub-specialist in kidney disease. I was one of the three big people who started the kidney transplant program at St. Christopher’s Hospital.
WM: So your connection with East Falls – was it just the four years you were at Women’s Medical?
MC: No I continued to live there until I moved here (Cathedral Village).
WM: You were at the hospital for the four years of schooling, and you continued to live here, though you were no longer connected with that hospital – you were at St. Christopher’s?
MC: No. When I was in internship, I had to live there because I didn’t have a family, and for part of the residency, but when I finished that and was a faculty member, etcetera, I rented an apartment – that was the one in East Falls at Carlton Park Apartments.
KH: So this was when you were working at St. Christopher.
MC: I did. It was not a good neighborhood to live in at that time. It was a neighborhood of transients being overtaken most of the time. As other groups moved in. It’s a very old part of the city and East Falls, as you cross Route One there, you’re in North Philadelphia, which is a whole different community.
WM: Let’s go back to your years at Woman’s Medical. Can you describe the facility there – what the building was like.
MC: Well the building is what you see on Henry Avenue. Half of it was the pre-med students – that’s the first two years. I’m sorry; I shouldn’t call them pre-med – the first two years of students studied anatomy, physiology, chemistry and other things. We also had a few lectures in the chemistry course on nutrition. At that time, we were the only one, of one or two medical schools in the country that was offering nutrition, because it was now the time of great laboratory studies and other things, and nutrition did not seem to be that important.
WM: About what year are we talking about?
MC: Well this was in the 1950s. My first family connection was – shall we say, in Philadelphia, in WWI, my father was in the Navy and they sailed out of Philadelphia to go overseas. People in the neighborhood invited him for Thanksgiving dinners, and things like that, when they were waiting.
WM: Do you remember any faculty members or other students in particular from your years at Woman’s Medical?
MC: Well yes. I became a good friend of Doris Bartuska, who was four years ahead of me. She was very bright. She made the front cover of Time….I didn’t! (laughter)
WM: You know, Katy and I took tap dancing lessons with Doris…
MC: Did you!
WM: Did you know Dr. Alma Morani?
MC: Very well. I knew Dr. Morani very well and she had a beautiful home over in West Philadelphia – Narberth or beyond that. She traveled all over the world. She did a great deal for East Falls. When they were trying to rejuvenate themselves in the 60s and 70s, she was the first one who helped put up those signs “East Falls needs a bank”
WM & KH: Oh yes!
MC: She was one of the great promoters of that, and then she went on to help get rid of the business that was at the corner of Ridge and Midvale that is now a restaurant (Le Bus). It was a place you could cash checks which, she pointed out, gives you, when you come off the turnpike, a whole idea of the neighborhood – these are people that are too poor to have a bank account so they had to do this.
WM: That’s so interesting.
MC: It is – it’s part of how East Falls began to grow.
WM: Any professors that you remember in particular?
MC: Well, of course, the most famous of all (points to a photo) – this is the man with the gray suit in the middle – that’s Waldo Nelson (Note: 1898 – 1997 – called the “Father of Pediatrics”) – the big textbook on pediatrics – he won many, many awards all over the world. And he was the Chairman of the Department and the Head at St. Christopher’s Hospital.
WM: When you lived in East Falls, tell us about Carlton Apartments.
MC: I had very nice neighbors, and some of whom had very good connections with the history too. There was one named Bampton – I forget his first name.
MC: Yes! He lived next door to me.
WM: I loved him –when I was librarian, he’d come in every week.
MC: Now I remember, and you brought him books from the library when he couldn’t get down there. His wife fussed about housekeeping when she was there, but I always remembering him talking about you bringing him the books.
WM: That’s so nice. So was it a community of professional people at Carlton?
MC: Very much professional people, and people starting out when they first got married after they graduated. There were some children there at the time – as families grew, they would have to move out. We had a Mormon family – when they finally got to child #6 they finally realized that even with a larger apartment…
WM: Was there a community association there?
MC: But East Falls was growing at a very nice rate with these new things – the problem now is that it’s being taken over – schools and everything – by these outside buyers who want to get rid of the old apartments which are falling down – maybe – but they simply want to put in high rise. And we knew, even then, I remember visiting – when Dr. Faye was having her house renovated, she rented temporarily a place on Woodpipe Lane, so she and Alma Morani – Warren Bampton had died by then – but some of the others – she would have us all over for afternoon tea. Of course there was not a teapot to be found.
WM: Where were people sending their children to school?
MC: The problem was they would go the one right down the hill across from the library.
MC: Mifflin School. And it was doing ok, but there was a mixture of students – the children of people who lived in East Falls – no matter whom – black or white or green or purple – it didn’t matter – and so it was quite nice. But they were bussed over from a housing project that was close by – Abbottsford – and there were a lot of problems there. I understand that one year they lost three principals in one year – they couldn’t manage. At the various churches – the only two I knew about that did it – the Presbyterians, and we had it at Good Shepherd, we had one or two teachers, who had been teachers. They went to the library in the afternoon and when the children left the Mifflin School, the guard took them right across to the library and they cleared out the reading tables for them so all the people went over there and sat around the tables and it was quite nice. I remember one of mine from the south, and she had a little boy she was helping and he came one day and she said “Let’s do the English first.” That was ok, “Now let’s do the math.” “Oh my teacher doesn’t give math homework.” And she said “Oh I think she does.” (laughter). And so they went along that way. It was a good project for the community.
WM. Absolutely. So where you lived, did you feel an impact from being near Abbottsford Housing Project?
MC: No. Once in a while people who didn’t understand, they were trying to help the kids there. They would pack them into cars on Halloween and bring them around to all of our houses. And that was not a good idea. You would find them relieving themselves into your shrubbery. So that was stopped.
WM: So when you at Medical School at Woman’s Med, were you also seeing patients as part of your curriculum?
MC: As part of the program? In the first two years there was very little in the 50s. There’s much, much more now; it’s increased a great deal. And so the transition from the half of the hospital that was the laboratories and the first few years of physiology over into the other side- you just went through a section of doors. And our pathologist, Dr. Geiss, who used to refer to it as “crossing over Jordan” because the “promised land” was that hospital! So you had to pass all your courses to go over there.
WM When you did see patients, where were they from all over East Falls? Or Abbottsford people? Who came there as patients?
MC: They were mostly local but we had referral patients. And down at St. Christopher that was even more of a thing, that we had good referral patients.
WM: Was there a lot of research going on at Woman’s Med?
MC: There were a few people who did research. Doris Bartuska was one of them, even when she was a student. She was unusually bright.
WM: Do you know what her research was?
MC: She has all her daughters living here in the neighborhood.
KH: Did she have a particular area of research?
MC: (difficulty hearing) Now one of the things that goes on in East Falls that’s very interesting is Penn Charter. It always seemed very separate from things. It had a connection with the Good Shepherd Church because it was right next door to them, with some scholarship programs through the church. There are people who are still active, like Darryl Clark, onetime the Headmaster of Penn Charter. I can remember now, jumping up about 30 years, needs for new buildings at Penn Charter. They did a lot of renovations but, like all builders, the first thing they did was chop down trees. They chopped down 157 trees and they replaced 67. And the very first year after that, Mary Coombs, who was the Rector’s wife, noticed that her garden dried out more quickly than it had before.
WM: So when you went to Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd, Maurice Coombs was the pastor?
MC: Yes he was.
WM: Can you talk about him a little?
MC: Oh he was a very remarkable person. He came from Australia, as he called it, and so did Mary. His family was very poor. His father never got back with them after serving for years and years in WWI. So he became a minister in a small group and then they joined the Anglican Church. So he’s not ordained in the Episcopal Church – The Church of England – the Anglican Church. We are that – Episcopalian, but just the ones that don’t recognize the king – the monarch. The church was started because after the Constitution was signed in America, people could not be subject in their religion to a foreign monarch. It’s alright to a foreign religious person but not to a foreign monarch. It takes it away from religion. They lived in Jerusalem for a while when he was chaplain to the Archbishop of Jerusalem and then they came here.
WM: Tell us about Good Shepherd. What activities did they have? Why did you go there?
MC: Well when we first started, like many churches in the area, we had a Sunday school. I don’t remember any outreach programs outside the parish, but we did sponsor a family from Guatemala at that time because they had missionaries down there. There was enough to do taking care of all the people of the parish.
WM: Was it a large congregation?
MC: It was about 100 or more, 200, at the time. The new prayer book had come out.
WM: Were you very active there?
MC: Yes, I was active with the altar guild – before I left, I was the chief of it.
WM: What did you do?
MC: Whatever they do – I don’t want to waste time telling you about that.
KH: Flowers are usually involved.
MC: Well, more than that. We were in charge of getting all the vestments together, the linens, candles and this and that. And flowers for Christmas and Easter – you had to make a bargain with some florist to get the right ones for Christmas.
WM: Were you different in philosophy from St. James the Less – that was also a local Episcopal Church.
MC: Well I knew about it – I gave them a small amount. I think they had a very good idea there. They still kept it up and the ladies did a lot of sewing. We had a quilters group up there; we still have a few here who sat on the porch in good weather and made quilts. At first they did them on big looms – bigger than this – and then they began to do them on hoops. They were a cultured group of women and that was an activity for them.
WM: Did you see the church change over the years?
MC: Well they didn’t change – they did what every other church did. Congregations became smaller and smaller, and the group of children going to them changed. Now the Baptists had a very good one, and they went down and eventually closed. The Methodists did too. And now the Lutherans did also, so one by one…
There’s Good Shepherd which has a very small congregation, and St. Bridget which had a wonderful school, but they had to consolidate so they moved them up to Our Lady (note: Mother) of Consolation which is right in back of St. Paul’s in Chestnut Hill – very elite neighborhood. And so the kids have to be bussed up there if they’re still going there and some do. But the nice thing about it was that they were taking local neighborhood children and there was enough money to go around. So when the private schools were charging $20,000 or more dollars a year for 8th grade, they were charging $3000 so families could afford it. At the very end, only 15% were white families, so it was such an opportunity for the new families moving in. We were sad to see it go. The church couldn’t afford it anymore.
WM: What did Good Shepherd do over the years to try to keep up a congregation?
MC: Well whatever the others did. We had a charismatic minister – that was Coombs – and we have one now. He’s supposed to be an interim – his name will come to me.
WM: You probably know the Mathers – Peter and Mary and Vic.
MC: And their children went to Penn Charter. And Mimi Mather, who’s Vic’s wife, was very active in the Parents’ Association at Penn Charter. And we have a financial connection with Penn Charter – that is, Good Shepherd does, because we have that preschool service (Penn Charter Pre-K is located at Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd). If you want to see expense – when it first started it was $15,000 a year for 4 year olds, so think about going to private schools all the rest of your childhood!
WM: I just want to go back to Women’s Med for a minute – I think it was back in the 50s that Grace Kelly’s mother used to do fundraising fetes there.
MC: She did.
WM: Did you ever meet her?
MC: Yes I met her, but I didn’t really know her. She was a good friend of the faculty and Dr. Fay, of course. What she did was to build (finance) the building of the nurses home to help – nursing schools in those days were all three year things, and the quality of it depended on the quality of the nurses and the doctors at the community hospital where you studied, which was usually the neighborhood one. If they had no experience with intensive care units premature babies in isolettes, they would come down here for say 3 months – or 6 months – but they had to have a safe place to live. They were 17-18 year olds and they were away from their families and what not. And so she financed the building of that.
WM: Is that the Ann Preston building?
MC: Yes, Ann Preston Hall is the proper name of it (note: Dr. Ann Preston was the first woman Dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania)
WM: Is that right next to the hospital?
MC: Yes, right on the campus – a separate building. It’s connected though – they’re all connected.
WM: Really. I didn’t realize that Mrs. Kelly was involved in that. So do you remember these fundraisers she used to have?
MC: No I didn’t because I was too young and not involved in it. Fundraisers involved wealthy people who had some connections. I’ll give you an example. Penn Charter has a relatively new building. – the arts building – which was financed by David Kurtz and his wife Esther (Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts). And he died just when they were moving – and his wife lives here at Cathedral Village. I eat with her often. So she did that.
And we fete other times. There was one that I heard of just before that building. They needed a science building and they talked to the alumni. One man who was quite elderly but wanted to do something, was saying “Well what these boys really need is a new field house. And they said, “No we have a good one. In this day and age you’ve got to have a science building” (pause) – He gave them both! (laughter)
WM: So after you finished Woman’s Med, what made you want to stay in the neighborhood when you started working at St. Christopher?
MC: Because I needed to get a good internship and the best ones I had were in Massachusetts or Connecticut, but not the top ones. To get one with this man was a real plum, so I did that.
WM: But after you finished Woman’s Med and went on to St. Christopher…
MC: No I went on to Episcopal.
WM: Episcopal. What made you want to keep living in East Falls during all those years?
MC: Because it was a very convenient place to live – it was a safe place – and it was close enough for a short drive. So it really was a very good place to live from that standpoint.
WM: We think so too.
MC: Certainly by that standpoint, Temple U was the other mother institution to St. Christopher at that time – and still is, in a way, but it was in a very bad neighborhood so you had to live elsewhere. So living at Carlton Park was really good.
WM: So while you were living in East Falls all those years, did you get involved in the community at all?
MC: No, I really didn’t except beyond knowing about Alma Morani’s things that she was doing and being a part of it. I didn’t really have time to, and since I didn’t have a family there and didn’t have anyone going to school in East Falls, so my colleagues were all my friends. In the end, not many of them lived there but they lived in the neighboring suburbs. Narberth was where quite a few of them lived.
WM: Did you eat in any restaurants in East Falls?
MC: Well restaurants used to come and go.
WM: What do you remember back from the 50s and 60s?
MC: In the 50s there was a restaurant on Midvale Avenue – it was below what we call the cathedral apartments (the Cathedral homes on the 3400 block of Midvale) and going down towards the hill. There was a big grocery store down there, and below that, there was a restaurant.
WM: Really! Do you remember the name of it?
MC: No I don’t. It was really a bar room but they had tables in the back. Mostly spaghetti. It was a great family place.
WM: People have mentioned a restaurant on Midvale called Pete’s Spaghetti House? Was that it?
MC: It could have been. But it didn’t say that on the front. Anyway, it was a family place.
WM: Anywhere else?
MC: (continuing) ….there was a little narrow entrance for families so you went through there, and you sat – and it really was for families- there was oilcloth on the tables; They served lots of spaghetti and stuff, and if the parents wanted a glass of wine, the waiter would go through the bar area there, get it from the bar, and bring it over to you. And it left those people at the bar alone – so it worked out very well. And there was another nice restaurant at the bottom of the hill, but it closed down when they enlarged that intersection of Ridge and Midvale. It was a very ancient tavern.
WM: Falls Tavern. Oh, you remember that! What was it like?
MC: It had a mahogany bar top, but the floors were – can’t remember now. Other things were all very ancient, and the little bar – you’d stand on it to have a drink. And I don’t remember that it ever had tables.
WM: Do you remember it coming down?
MC: The floors were chestnut – now that I remember. No, I don’t remember it coming down.
WM: Do you remember any other old buildings that aren’t here anymore in East Falls?
MC: The churches that are no longer being used as churches – like the Baptist Church, the Presbyterians are still going. All these churches have – on the first floor when you go in – the kitchen, the rooms where you have eating, Sunday school, and whatnot. There’s always a steep staircase going up to the sanctuary where you have the religious service. So I don’t do those anymore.
WM: When you were a student at Woman’s Med where did you eat? Did they have a cafeteria?
MC: Well they had a cafeteria in the main lecture hall – which was only used now and then- and the ladies on the auxiliary ran it at first. They served hotdogs and things like that – it was just grab it as you go. At night time there was a problem. There were still a couple of those Linton’s places around. And then starting – even in my freshman year – there were two medical sororities: Beta Phi that was on the corner of Penn Street and one of the cross streets and AEI House, which was Queen Lane just about the 4th house up from the railroad station. And there was a big apartment house being put in there and we were next door to it. I kind of ran it one year. There were about 14 of us that ate there every night. There was a lovely couple in that notorious building – it was intended at that time for elderly people with limited incomes. They would come every day – the man would stoke our furnace for me in the morning –we had a coal furnace – and the lady did our cooking in the night time.
KH: So that was just a place to eat? You didn’t live there?
MC: Yes we lived upstairs.
KH: So that was during the 4 year period when you were a medical student?
MC: Yes, when I was in medical school. So then I’d just walk down to the corner of Henry Avenue and up the other way, or ride my bike.
KH: Very convenient.
MC: Yes, very convenient and almost a world away from the big city.
WM: How did you feel when Woman’s Med became co-ed? You were gone by then…
MC: Well it had to be. It was forced upon us. We were the only medical school in the country only for women, and Jefferson was the only medical school in the country only for men. And in 1968 the government said “If you don’t go co-ed – and everyone else throughout the country – you won’t get the federal or state capitations for medical students.” Without federal help, none of us could have gone to medical school, and the costs were not like they are now, but they were pretty big. So that’s how we became coed. Jefferson, I have since found out, had a very interesting history with… that’s another story.
KH: A different interview…
MC: As time went on, we got more and more very good specialists at all the places and they all competed with each other. As you know now, Jefferson has been up against the antitrust laws about how many mergers you can have. And as of a few weeks ago, Stephen Klaskow (President and Chief Executive Officer of Thomas Jefferson University and Jefferson Health from 2013 – 2021) resigned, as you know.
Now back to some of the things that happened at Woman’s Medical and how people made a go of it… when my group of medical students first started – they were selected and then came to Woman’s Medical – and found apartments around town – they had a list of them in the Dean’s office. I went around and found this nice lady – her name will come to me – and there were a few activities between registration and when classes started. And because there were only 60 of us we did some unusual things. The usual thing was to get a Gray Line Tour of all the historic buildings, like Independence Hall. I found out a few things. My history book from Massachusetts was a little different from the ones in Philadelphia (laughter) – that’s only coming to light recently. But another thing we got was tickets to a play – it wasn’t at the Merriam Theater – I don’t remember because I was new here and didn’t pay attention. It was one of those plays that starts in Philadelphia to see if it will have success before it goes to New York…and guess what we saw? My Fair Lady!
WM: Oh my – we won’t ask if it was successful!
MC: But after that, things settled down. But it was a place where the dean was very conscience of social names like that for students – she came from a very wealthy family.
WM: And her name again was…
Marion Fay from New Orleans. But one time in the winter we had one of these terrific snow storms – 2 feet or more that we got occasionally. No one could really get to work. Some of the nurses – the police got them in ,….you know how they do. So I went over and worked with the patient I was seeing – I was a junior student so I could see the patient and get orders from the nurses on what to do. The Dean, Dr. Fay had a Ph.D. from Yale, which doesn’t help much on the wards, so she said she would do whatever was needed. They sent her down to the laundry. They had the old machines that washed the sheets – and she helped fold the sheets down in the laundry. And she made such an impression on all of the workers there – it was never forgotten! And I wrote a story about it – with her fur coat trailing in the snow….
WM: Do you have any other special memories of your years there?
MC: I guess I do. All of these pictures have memories. I didn’t get to commencement – my mother died 4 days before.
WM: She was up in Massachusetts?
MC: Yes. Well, I got up there before she died – they called me, so it was ok.
WM: Was commencement right on the campus?
MC: Yes, we had the funeral on Saturday and commencement was on Tuesday.
WM: Do you still keep up with Medical College of Pennsylvania?
MC: Well In a way I do. Of course MCP doesn’t exist anymore – it’s Drexel. And so we were bought by Drexel – and over the years I’ve kept up a great deal with that. We have an Alumni Association that goes back to Woman’s Med and I was President of it from 2005-06, so I have a whole big connection.
WM: What did you do in the role as President?
MC: Like any Alumni Association, we were there for all the affairs, and sometimes we picked up something the directors have missed. One time was when Papadakis was President (note: Constantine Papadakis (1946 – 2009) was president of Drexel University from 1995 – 2009) – well, he was from Greece with a name like that, but he was being honored by the Justinian Society of Philadelphia, so they talked to me about it. (note: founded in 1935, the Justinian Society is a legal organization comprised of attorneys, judges and law students of Italian-ancestry and located in Philadelphia) “We got this thing from this Justinian Society – is it important?” And I said “Oh yes!” so I went. They sent 2 or 3 people who were working – but I got to sit at the head table. The only other person I knew at the table was Dr. Chan who’s been on the board – this is the Board of Trustees of the Medical School of Drexel. So we didn’t know why they were honoring him because it’s a society for lawyers of Italian origin! (laughter) It turns out that “Papy” was half Italian – he grew up in Greece but he went to medical school at Padua in Italy. He was a young man and he met a nice Italian girl and married her and that’s how that happened.
So when we got there – it was in the Lincoln Ballroom on the top (of the Union league) – big table on the dais – we were sitting right below the big table but down below. Papadakis had asked his pastor to give the invocation. They belonged to the big Greek Orthodox Church out in Broomall and the pastor came wearing a cassock and a biretta and walked into the Union League as if nothing had happened. The sky would have fallen… I remember that.
WM: Well this has been really informative. One last question: what do you think of the campus now? Have you been back to see the campus?
MC: The campus? I haven’t been in there but I think the hospice thing (note: Hospice of Philadelphia, Falls Center) is a huge success – that’s the gem of that whole building. Giving resident apartments to students is a mistake. Keep students out. Undergraduate students don’t belong there – they’re like kids – like these student nurses.
WM: Is there anything else you’d like to add about Woman’s Medical or your years in East Falls?
MC: I think Steve Peitzman did an admirable job of writing the history of the early days of Woman’s Medical. We need someone to write a new history to go on with it.
I’m too old for that. I’m 92.
KH: Can you tell us about your work with the kidney transplant program?
MC: The first person you really have to have is an immunologist. This is not as crucial as it once was because the only drugs that we had to treat it were prednisone, which we gave in huge doses – you know what that does to people – and Imuran, which we don’t use very much anymore except for some other immune diseases.. But we had a very wonderful immunologist Harold Lischner; so he was there. We needed a new nephrologist – ours was not retiring, but went to California to get into administration and things like that. So I was sent out to Cincinnati to get some training, and in the meantime, they also hired a man to be the section chief who kind of – well you know what they do when they get a job – they take over everything …. But in the meantime, we were going along ok – we had a dialysis unit and we had to get ready for the transplant. We needed a surgeon and got Larry Summers who lived in Narberth all his life and is now out at The Hill (note: The Hill at Whitemarsh). There’s a joke about people at Cathedral Village – the lawyers live here, and their clients live at The Hill (laughter). But anyway, he was a very good surgeon and did the first few of them pro bono, because they only gave one payment, and that was to the urologist who got the kidney out of living donors, if we had them. Then the pathologist, who didn’t charge anything anyway, and then there has to be a third person who’s in charge of the general care of the patient and that was me. So the three of us worked together that way.
KH: This was very early in transplants.
MC: The first transplant was done January 14, 1971. And they tried to change it later. There’s always someone trying to rewrite history.
WM: Were the transplants for children?
MC: They were all children. Our first patient was a 14 year old girl. Her transplant lasted a few months and then she had two more after that. She came from Wilmington; I don’t know how long she lived. In the era in which we were first doing it, 70% of all recipients had the kidney at the end of one year.
MC: 70%; that’s all. Now it’s about 99%.
KH: 70% is pretty good.
MC: The anti-rejection drugs make the difference. Larry was so excited about this that he went for a few weeks up to Boston to study the surgical techniques with Dr. Joseph Murray who did the first one, as you know, but it was with an identical twin so immunological problems were not present (note: Joseph Murray (1919 – 2012) was an American plastic surgeon who performed the first successful human kidney transplant on identical twins Richard and Ronald Herrick on December 23, 1954). Together we got it done. One. little problem came up with the first one – not in East Falls – it’s a north Philadelphia problem – the recipient and the donor got together. We had hoped they were on different floors, but they met each other and that was ok. The donor was a 5 year old girl from north Philadelphia – right on 5th Street – in that area around there. She was hit by a car. This happened all the time. And so she was on life support, and they asked, when the time came, could we have the organs? She had some doubts because she was a devout catholic as to whether the church would allow it, so we called her pastor at St. Edwards who came running up to tell her “Yes we do! We encourage it!” And that was important.
KH: And that must have been the part that you were involved in since you were involved in the care of the patient.
MC: Well of course I was there. I could – anyone who was involved in that could not be the one who – I could ask for the transplant but then I couldn’t take care of the patient; you could only do one or the other. And the turning off of the life support – you had to have a neurologist and a non-neurologist – and we had that. And we had people who helped us to write a protocol for that for the hospital, so it was a group activity that a lot of people don’t realize.
WM: Did you do that for many years?
MC: Yes, but then it got to be more people and I went off into other things – I got involved with the admissions committee at Temple and that kind of thing.
WM: And you were a pediatrician.
MC: I was a pediatrician. I kept being a person who made rounds on the floor and taught students. I became the pediatrician for children who came who didn’t have a doctor of their own, or whose doctor did not have privileges at the hospital or didn’t want them because he was too busy and referred them. I would take care of them and had to get back to the doctor afterwards. But I enjoyed – the best part of medicine to me is the detective work.
WM: Being a diagnostician?
MC: Yes. We were taught in the old school that 80% of the diagnosis is in the history and 20% is the physical diagnosis and the laboratory to confirm it. But if you can’t put the picture together…..
WM: Really interesting. Thank you so much for all your time.