At Children’s Fairyland on Saturday, a three-tiered yellow and pink birthday cake stood towering several feet in height, papered with handwritten messages like, “Thank you for our son,” “Thanks for helping our daughter live a healthy life, ” and “1969 – Thank You. My Heart is Yours 4Ever. Saving My Life.”
The dozens of notes, tokens of appreciation from those devoted to Children’s Hospital & Research Center Oakland, were written by attendees of the Children’s Hospital 100th Birthday Party, the first in a long string of centennial celebrations planned to honor the hospital’s work throughout Oakland and Northern California.
“We’re going to be celebrating our birthday for two years,” said Children’s spokeswoman Erin Goldsmith. “Our hospital was founded in 1912, and the doors actually opened in 1914, so that’s a great reason to have a two-year birthday party.”
At Fairyland’s Chapel of Peace, videographers recorded visitors’ past experiences at Children’s Hospital. John Lamm, 88, shared his memories as a patient at Children’s in 1928, when he was five years old. He had had a mastoidectomy, a procedure that removes infectious bone behind the ear.
“I had a woman doctor which was very unusual back in those days,” Lamm said. “I just recorded my experience about how pleasant she was, how when I was waiting to be operated on before the ether took hold, and so forth…It was very soothing, I still remember that from all these years, how she was.”
Children’s, according to the facility’s accounts, is Northern California’s only independent children’s hospital. When it was founded in 1912 by Bertha Wright and Mabel Weed—a nurse and a social worker, respectively—it was dedicated specifically to neonatal treatment. Baby Hospital, as Children’s was first named, officially opened on September 6, 1914, and held just 38 beds. Daily fees were $1-$2.50 per patient, with services free for those who could not afford to pay for care.
Now, a century later, more than 77,000 patients walk through Children’s Hospital’s doors every year.
The Saturday birthday festivities included readings from local children’s authors, a Sleeping Beauty Puppet Show from Storybook Puppet Theater, and Zumba with the YMCA and Children’s sports medicine team. KFOG Local Scenes artists—all locally based musicians—were also on hand. Performances included a solo acoustic set from Rudy Trubitt of Sippy Cups, and a set by Zach Rogue, of Rogue Wave, among others.
Apart from descending down the rabbit hole with Fairyland’s venerable Alice, dodging bubbles spurting from the Troll Bridge Crossing, and climbing into the belly of Willie the Whale with a Curly Tail, attendees could also craft pasta necklaces, birthday hats, bracelets and smoothies. A caravan of Renaissance-style bagpipers, princesses, Prince Charmings and furry creatures—all bedecked in sparkling, tasseled Happy Birthday hats—led a midday birthday parade. Children’s Hospital president Bertram Lubin, one of the leaders of the march, kept tempo as he played the snare drum. The cast of fantastical characters led a crowd-wide rendition of Happy Birthday, culminating in a cupcake toast.
“The future of our society is in the health of the children,” Lubin declared. “We provide services to all children regardless of their ability to pay. We’ve been doing it for 100 years, and we’ll do it for the next 100 years. Anyone who works at Children’s Hospital is a kid at heart.”
Children’s Hospital is a vital fixture in Northern California, Lubin said. “We’re the only place to come,” he said. “This society, community, potential donors, all have to recognize that no one else is providing those services, nor would they be prepared to do it. And that would have an enormous negative impact on a culture that’s already challenged in many ways by socioeconomic factors that are oftentimes outside of their control.”
Children’s Hospital operates one of the world’s largest sickle cell treatment and research centers. It is also the Bay Area’s only Level 1 trauma center—one of the highest designations granted to trauma centers—that is exclusively for children.
“Children are not small adults; they need the understanding that pediatricians provide, the sensitivity to incorporate the family and everyone else in the decision, and then the sophistication of the newer therapies,” Lubin said.
Michelle Acosta, 43, weighed just two pounds, two ounces when she was born in 1969. She said she owes her life to Children’s Hospital. Now her daughter Chloe, 5, receives primary care at Children’s. “She knows that Mama was a baby there, so now she wants to be a baby doctor when she grows up,” Acosta said. “They’ve never turned down children. They’ve got so many stories and lives that they’ve saved.”