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Today, we talk with Deserae Dorton, marketing and communications manager at Shriners Children’s Portland, about the 100 years of care the hospital has achieved.

Shriners Childrens Portland Celebrates 100 Years

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Joey Wahler (Host): Shriners Children's Portland is celebrating 100 years of their great work, so we're discussing this wonderful milestone. Our guest, Deserae Dorton. She is Marketing and Communications Manager for Shriners Children's Portland. This is Healing Heroes PDX, the podcast series from the specialists at Shriners Children's Portland

Hi there, Deserae. Thanks for joining us.

Deserae Dorton: Hello, Joey. Good to be here.

Host: Great to have you aboard. So first, even people that know the name, and of course so many do, they may not necessarily know the backstory. Tell us in a nutshell, how did Shriners Children's Portland come to be a century ago?

Deserae Dorton: Yeah, sure. We've actually got a really cool piece of history of the origin of this hospital system here in Portland. It all started in 1870, a small group of Masons in New York City would regularly meet. And often, their discussions would turn towards forming a new fraternity for masons. So, it would be based on the tenets of Freemasonry, but with the added element of fun and fellowship and kind of just making it more celebratory. And so, this actually eventually became the Shriners, sort of a club within the Masons.

And then, 50 years later at the 46th National Session of this fraternity, the Shriners, which was held here in Portland, the National President, that title is the Imperial Potentate, W. Freeland Kendrick, proposed building a hospital for children with disabilities. This is in response to the polio epidemic which was sweeping our country. So many children had this need for quality care and it just wasn't there. And so, the Shriners were looking at addressing this need. And so in his proposal, he said we can build a hospital and recommended that the funding come from the membership of the Shriners that they donate $2 per capita tax from the fraternity members. And many Shriners in this meeting expressed doubts about the practicality, the responsibility that comes with starting and running a children's hospital. And the prospects of the plan were starting to fade. And then, a Shriner stood up to address the crowd. This was Noble Forrest Adair. Noble is a title they kind of give to their fraternal members. Noble Forrest Adair of Yarb Shriners in Atlanta, he addressed the concerns of the audience with an inspiring monologue that is often referred to as the bubble speech. This is something that wouldn't ring true to modern ears, but back then it was a very popular song about blowing bubbles. So, he said, to quote him, "I was lying in bed yesterday morning about four o'clock and some poor fellow who had strayed from the rest of the band stood down there under the window for 25 minutes playing I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles. I wondered if there were not a deep significance in the tune that he was playing for the Shriners, I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles. While having spent money for songs, spent money for bands, it is time for the Shriners to spend money for humanity. I want to see this thing started. Let us lay aside the soap and water and stop blowing bubbles and get down to brass tacks. Let us get rid of all technical objections. And if there is a Shriner in North America who objects to having paid the $2 after he has seen the first child helped, I will give him a check back for it myself."

So, that is the origin story of the founding of this Shriners Children's, which eventually became a hospital system full of many locations all over the U.S. and expanding internationally. And the origin with providing care for polio patients, these hospitals started focusing on orthopedic care, so care getting kids who had mobility problems and getting them more mobile and back to enjoying life.

So, for Shriners Children's, as they founded this hospital system back in-- they started in 1922, was the first location. It was 100% free care. We actually didn't even have systems in place to accept money if people wanted to pay for their care. It was 100% free. And that was actually true up until 2009 when the recession affected our donations. And so then, we started accepting insurance. And now, people are able to provide payment if they want to pay for some of their treatment. But our mission is the same, that payment is not a factor in care. We provide care to any child who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay. So now, over 100 years later, we have hospitals, clinics, outpatient facilities, affiliate sites, extension clinics that go into rural areas in the U.S. and internationally.

Host: That is amazing. There are so many things there that I could ask you about, but we'd be here all day, but let's just maybe follow up on one little nugget there that piques my interest, Deserae, namely that back in the day, people didn't have to pay. And so, I mean, you compare that to the way the medical system generally works today. Imagine people coming a hundred years or 90 years ago, or back in the early days of Shriners Children's Portland, and they offered money and they were told, "No, no. Your money's no good here. It's free," right?

Deserae Dorton: Yeah. Pretty incredible and such a difference it made back then when there were so many people in rural areas that had no access to quality care. So, this really was revolutionary back then and still today. Our mission remains the same, that payment is not a factor. And we have some of the best trained, best technology in pediatric orthopedics that is available to any child who needs our help. We're here for it, and we continue to try to find as many kids to help as we can.

Here in Oregon, we've expounded in many ways, to more of our rural areas and even reaching up into Canada. So, we just continue to find ways that we can make the best use of these donated dollars and find more kids to care for.

Host: So, switching gears, what are some of the historical highlights that Shriners Children's Portland has enjoyed over the years that jump out to you?

Deserae Dorton: So, we are the fifth hospital that was built. So in 1924, Shriners Children's Portland opened on 8200 Northeast Sandy Boulevard in Portland, which is an area that will be familiar to a lot of locals. Sandy Boulevard is a pretty prominent road. Our first chief of staff was Robert Dillahunt, who was instrumental in founding the hospital as well as founding the Oregon Health and Science University Medical School. And from our founding, we have been a teaching hospital. So, we've been working with OHSU in educating and training the next generation of orthopedic surgeons for now, 100 years.

And then in 1983, we actually moved our building to be next to OHSU up Marquam Hill, and that's where we are today. We've had several expansions throughout the years. We added a research center to Shriners Children's Portland with a robust staff and new pieces of technology, where our research was focused research for the improvement of pediatric orthopedic care.

And then in 1991, our Portland research team found mutations in fibrillin-1 gene. I believe I've pronounced that correctly. I'm sure somebody from the research community will reach out to me if I did not, but fibrillin-1 gene to cause Marfan syndrome. As a result of this work, there is now a diagnostic test for Marfan syndrome. In 1992, Michael Sussman, MD joined the Portland Shriners Hospital team as our Chief of Staff and was instrumental in forming the Clinical Research Department, a team of clinicians dedicated to examining the efficacy of the treatments provided to patients. Dr. Sussman also revolutionized the patient care model, so he instituted a team approach to the management of children with musculoskeletal disorders. So, this very much focused on personalized, dedicated care to each child, and then providers sharing their knowledge with each other to get the best treatment for each of these children. So, this clinical research, we're working side by side with these providers to evaluate the options for care for children with childhood disabilities and how we can enhance their lives beyond the hospital.

Speaking of enhancing lives beyond the hospital, our orthotics and prosthetics lab in 2017 becomes an LLC called Pediatric Orthotic and Prosthetic Services, fondly called POPS, and their care they provide, they're in-house building orthotics and prosthetics for our patients, working with their doctors and their physical therapists and creating these products for them. So, the care remains the same. But now that they're an LLC, they're able to streamline a lot of these services, allow our donated funds to go further in providing even more and improved services for these children. So, that was a major change, and that department continues to churn out millions of dollars' worth of orthotics and prosthetics for children every year that just so enhances their lives, not only helps them to be mobile and walk, but help them do things like ride a bike and play soccer at a higher ability than they would have with just a standard prosthetic or orthotic.

And then of course, coming up to the more recent years, 2021, we opened our Shriners Children's Medford Clinic. And this is the first time that close care to Southern Oregon is provided in this specialty of pediatric orthopedic care. It had never been available in that community before. So, we brought the Shriners Children's model down there to the Medford area. And then, this year, we celebrate 100 years of providing world class care of pediatric orthopedic care to children, and we also provide care for cleft lip and palate. And we serve children from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Alaska, British Columbia. All, as I said before, regardless of ability to pay. This is a 29-bed hospital that we now have. We have an outpatient clinic. We've got a motion analysis center, our POPS department, in-house rehab services including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, recreational therapy. We have living areas for family members who stay here for quite a while. We've got a pharmacy, a library, classroom space for kids who need to miss school, partnered with our local school system, and we even have outreach clinics that our staff will go out regularly. So, Pendleton, Oregon, Anchorage, Alaska. And then, soon to come more clinics that I'm not allowed to announce yet, but later this year, we'll be opening even more clinics. So, this is just such a great time to celebrate all the great things happening at Shriners Children's Portland as we reach our hundred anniversary mark.

Host: Indeed. And that's a great chronology you just provided. But as you know better than anyone, Shriners Children's Portland touches so many lives in so many ways every day. Is there maybe one story from something you've experienced or you've heard about from the Shriner's history that comes to mind?

Deserae Dorton: In October, we had our Walk for Love where throw ourselves a fundraiser and invite the community to come walk with us at the Oregon Zoo. And I met a young man named Justin, he was a teenager and just a recent patient. He had been experiencing quite a bit of pain and thought that he had scoliosis. And then when he came to see the specialist at Shriners Children's, found that his condition was more specific than just scoliosis and he needed very specialized care. And after surgery and treatment, he is now completely back engaged with life. He was just bursting with energy when he shared his story with me about how he's able to get involved in school for the first time and be pain-free. He's getting involved in extracurricular activities. And he said, "Who would have thought that just doing simple things like this would bring me so much joy?" But having not been able to participate for so long because of his pain and his limitations, that it was such a life changing thing. And so he said, "Can I share my story with people? Can I help them know what great care Shriners Children's provides?" So, we are going to invite him to share his story at our gala this year, which is happening February 24th. You can learn more about Justin and his experience and you can meet him in person if you come to our gala, that's happening up in Vancouver at the Hilton there, and support the hospital by attending and meet some of our great patients like Justin.

Host: Wow. And I'm sure that's, obviously, Deserae, just one of countless stories like that that really happen probably literally every day, as you pointed out earlier, worldwide, not just here in the U.S. Couple of other things, you touched on it there by mentioning the gala. What are some of the other exciting things going on this year to celebrate this remarkable achievement, 100 years of service

Deserae Dorton: We've got a lot of exciting things happening this year. Our actual anniversary is January 15th, and then that just kicks off celebrations for the rest of the year. Like I mentioned, February is our gala. And then, May 17th, we're celebrating up in Seattle because we do treat patients up in that area as well. We're just a three and a half hour drive. We're having a joint celebration with our Spokane location because we both serve patients in the Seattle area. And so, you can come golf with us at the Nile Golf Course. Foursomes are still up for grabs if you want to join us there. And then, this summer, we have tasked our staff with going out into community events. So, we're going to hit as many community events as we can. So, please look for the Shriners Children's Portland Table as you hit those summer events in your communities. And then, in September, we're going to be doing our Walk for Love at the Zoo again. And we're going to make it a bigger party than we have in previous years, celebrating 100 years.

And then, we want to invite anyone who has a story to share with us, if you are a patient, a past patient, a staff member, a shriner, a volunteer, a supporter, a donor, if you have any connection, even a family member who's been impacted, we will invite you to share your story with us. So, we'll put the link to where you can share that story with us, and we would love to collect those stories. We're going to be sharing them throughout the year to just really show the incredible impact that Shriners Children's Portland has had on this community.

Host: Spreading the word, that's great. And so, Deserae, in summary here, with this celebration and this anniversary going on, what would you like the Portland community to take away most from this significant year for Shriners Children's Portland?

Deserae Dorton: Something that we talk about all the time, even just informally in the halls of this hospital is just how important it is for us to see these kids thriving and doing great things contributing to their community. And so, now that we've been here 100 years, we plan to be here another 100, we just want you to know that we're here caring for these children and that there are ways that you can get involved and support what we're doing. So, please visit shrinersportland.org and help us do great things for these kids whose lives are changed. And it really makes a huge impact in their lives. And they are our future. So we're definitely going to invest in what they're contributing to this world. So, we hope you'll join us in that effort.

Host: Very well said. Well, folks, we trust you're now more familiar with Shriners Children's Portland and their 100th year anniversary. Deserae Dorton, happy anniversary to you and yours. Keep up the great work and thanks so much again.

Deserae Dorton: Thank you. Happy anniversary to Shriners Children's Portland.

Host: Yes, indeed. And for more information, please do visit, Deserae mentioned it a moment ago, shrinersportland.org. Again, that's shrinersportland.org. Now, if you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social media. I'm Joey Wahler. And thanks again for listening to Healing Heroes PDX, the podcast series from the specialists at Shriners Children's Portland.

2024 means that Shriners Children’s Portland is celebrating 100 years serving families the Pacific Northwest! In 1924 Shriners Children’s Portland opened its doors, creating a legacy of extraordinary care . In the past century, Shriners Children’s Portland has touched an incredible amount of lives – from patients and staff members, to volunteers, the founding fraternity, Shriners International and community members.

About the Speaker

Deserae Dorton is the marketing and communications manager at Shriners Children’s Portland. In her role, she oversees the brand and heightening awareness of the most amazing care anywhere being done at the Portland hospital. Her background is in content management and creation, community engagement, including heavy digital strategy. She also launched a very successful Patient Ambassador program that has been adopted by many colleagues.

She has a BA from Weber State University in public relations and advertising with a marketing minor. Deserae lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon, with her dog, Conan, and she enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest!

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