They say if you love your work, you'll never work another day in your life. I met a person recently who seems to be living proof of that. It's just so obvious from watching him that he loves what he's doing. Jan Jennings is chief executive officer of Children's Memorial Medical Center in Chicago. It's considered one of the finest facilities of its kind in the world, and big names like Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan as well as ordinary Joes and Janes like the rest of us donate their time and energy to help the children who are patients there. Many of the children have very serious illnesses, which became apparent when Jennings told me a story. During the Christmas season last year, a local high school sent its choir to the hospital to entertain the children with holiday carols. There was only one problem: The choir wasn't allowed on the upper floors of the hospital because its presence would be too disruptive. Jennings, however, encouraged the choir to perform in the hospital's reception area and instructed his staff to have as many children as medically possible brought down from those floors to hear the singers. Only three patients came down.
Jennings, who's in his early 50s, seems to be the right person for Children's Memorial. By that I mean he employs the kind of leadership style necessary to run a major healthcare complex in the constantly changing and challenging '90s. He's committed to his work and treats his colleagues with dignity and respect. It's the children, however, who are his true love, which is evident in everything he says and does.
Before coming to Children's, Jennings was president and CEO of Millard Fillmore Health System in Buffalo, N.Y. One day he received a call from a headhunter asking him if he would be interested in coming to Children's. "I jumped at it. It's what I had always wanted to do. A dream come true," Jennings told me in his modest office.
Most of us would probably find it emotionally difficult to work at a children's hospital. But Jennings' dedicated staff does an absolutely superb job of caring for the children. And every one of those children is a profile in courage. Jennings tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who some seven years ago contracted polio. Of course, polio just isn't supposed to happen these days. The boy was examined at other facilities before being taken to Children's. Doctors quickly diagnosed the disease and were able to save the boy's life, but they told his parents their son would probably never walk again. This year, however, the teenager won the Illinois championship in tai chi, wearing leg braces throughout the grueling competition. That's a tribute to the caregivers at Children's and the rehabilitation they were able provide. But most of all it's a tribute to the young man's will to beat the odds.
Another young patient also has displayed uncommon courage. He has endured two kidney transplants, both of which his body eventually rejected. Jennings told me he had become close friends with the young man and his family. He also told me a third transplant would be possible only if the organ were an exact match. One day Jennings heard the young man was back in the hospital and the physicians were desperately looking for a third kidney. Things didn't look good at all. Soon thereafter Jennings received a phone call from the boy asking him to come visit him in his room. He did so with much apprehension, expecting the worst. But when he walked in he was greeted by the elated young man, who told him his doctors had found a donor who was a perfect match-his sister.
Call it God's will, a miracle or just good luck. It doesn't matter. In all these cases what really matters is that lives are made whole every day at Children's and so many other hospitals like it nationwide. We are blessed.
Children are miracles,
Charles S. Lauer