Cattlewomen left no children, but left a legacy

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (AP) — Cattlewoman and philanthropist Clara Driscoll never had children.

Yet in her twilight, she yearned to help South Texas children afflicted with polio and stricken with tuberculosis — those being turned away from hospitals with few treatment options.

Driscoll traveled the world, helped to preserve the Alamo, wrote plays performed in New York and mingled in national .

But her lasting legacy is measured in fulfilling a vision that has served hundreds of thousands of children too frail or stricken to otherwise survive.

Several thousand people gathered in front of a two-story 25-bed Driscoll Foundation Children’s Hospital for its dedication on the of Feb. 23, 1953. The sun peeked through several times during the ceremony, but not enough to relieve the chill of steadfast attendees, according to Caller-Times archives.

Foundation trustee Dr. McIver Furman introduced the first medical director, Dr. , who likened the site to a newborn.

“The was good,” Howard said to a shivering audience, “the natal period excellent, and we expect this child to be a center of public interest as it grows …”

Tours through continued into the evening, and Howard’s prediction proved accurate.

The has been a beacon for indigent South Texas children for 60 years, and has grown to an eight-story -front tower structure featuring 189 beds. Many firsts have been marked, including organ transplantation and , while high-tech has become a standard.

The name was honed to Driscoll Children’s Hospital in 1991.

The hospital is now a with 1,800 employees serving 31 South Texas counties, with clinics from Victoria to Brownsville and multiple aircraft to transport children in critical condition. More than 70,000 of them are treated annually, about half needing emergency services. Hospital officials announced last week a $12 million expansion of its emergency department and front lobby to more efficiently serve growing response needs.

In her later years, Furman, Driscoll’s personal physician, encouraged her provision for children’s specialty care, said Anita Eisenhauer, a member of the Clara Driscoll Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and president of the Nueces County Historical Commission.

When Driscoll died in 1945, her will provided a charitable trust named in honor of her parents and brother — the Robert and Julia Driscoll and Robert Driscoll Jr. Foundation. Her will directed that the foundation use her $5 million estate: ” … for the construction, equipment, and operation of a free clinic and hospital for crippled, maimed or diseased children, with all necessary and desirable appurtenances, supplies, and professional medical attention as may be practicable under the circumstances …”

Building the hospital required the bulk of Driscoll’s estate, said Nueces County Judge Loyd Neal, longtime trustee and hospital board chairman since 2005.

“It’s a great labor of love,” Neal said. “Our community is fortunate to have a hospital of this quality in a city this size.”

Within the first three months, more than 4,000 children were seen, and by the end of the first year a physical therapy department opened for those with polio and other physical disabilities.

By 1955 a $37,300 grant from the Ford Foundation helped add a cardiac catheterization lab, contributing to the hospital’s first full accreditation by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals. The first heart catheterization occurred in 1960.

Within a decade, an American Medical Association-approved pediatric residency program was active and a third floor had been built. Following completion of a pediatric intensive care unit, the first open-heart surgery was performed in 1967 — thanks to the help of local veterinarians.

Members of the Coastal Bend Veterinary Medical Association worked with surgeons to anesthetize dogs to achieve perfection before attempting the procedure on children, according to a Caller-Times article from May 13, 1967.

Among dozens of gifts from community and regional medical organizations, the American Heart Association provided $6,000 for a Pemco Heart Pump to help keep children alive during surgeries.

That year nine youngsters with congenital heart defects — five girls and four boys ages 7 to 15 — faced brighter futures after successful repairs. About 140 children were considered for surgeries by year’s end.

Growth continued with kidney specialties established in the early 1970s, and cancer treatments a decade later. In 1987 the hospital opened a seven-story patient care tower and became the first in South Texas to exclusively provide emergency services for children. A decade later an eighth floor was added and the foundation began leasing space for clinics in Harlingen, Laredo and Victoria.

During the past 15 years a skywalk was built to connect to the Driscoll Health Center, and a $2.5 million Children’s Heart Center of South Texas was dedicated. Clinics in Brownsville and McAllen opened, and medical buildings named for Furman and Dr. Joseph M. Sloan were built.

A significant milestone was the 2004 launch of the hospital’s Kidney Center, marked in 2007 with its first organ transplant, and the first robotic surgery south of Houston.

In recent years, foundation funds raised and donations have bolstered the first and only kidney transplant program in South Texas for children, and helped build a Cancer Blood Disorders Center, expand special child life services to all 120 departments of the hospital, and provided state-of-the-art equipment needs, officials said.

“We’re continuing an unprecedented level of change in the way health care is delivered,” said Steve Woerner, president and CEO. “Our job is to make sure the children are provided for the next 60 years.”


Information from: Corpus Christi Caller-Times,

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