Throughout their history, members of the Shriners fraternity have been known for their generosity and deep desire to help people, particularly children. In the 1920s, when a polio epidemic raged, and many children needed medical care that wasn’t available to them, the Shriners had the wisdom, vision and compassion to create a philanthropy that would help those children, and ultimately make a difference worldwide.
The plan was to help children with disabilities receive specialized orthopedic care, without cost to them, through multiple locations nationwide. Over the ensuing years, it became clear that these caring, generous men were dedicated to uncovering and meeting the unmet medical needs of children.
Origins in orthopedics
The need for pediatric orthopedic services throughout North America was substantial. In the early half of the 1900s, polio affected thousands of people annually in the United States alone. The disease, which causes paralysis and even death, primarily affected children, and Shriners Children’s cared for many patients with the condition. In addition, help was needed to treat other conditions affecting the bones, joints and muscles.
Today, most Shriners Children’s locations are staffed and equipped to handle virtually all pediatric orthopedic conditions. Commonly treated conditions include clubfoot, limb deficiencies and discrepancies, scoliosis, osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease) and sports injuries, as well as orthopedic difficulties associated with neuromuscular conditions, such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida.
We have a large full-time staff of experienced pediatric orthopedic surgeons, as well as a comprehensive team of physical, occupational, speech and other therapists. Our hospitals, outpatient centers and clinics provide exceptional orthopedic care that is recognized throughout the world.
Moving into burn care
From 1950 to 1960, Shriners Children’s funds increased rapidly. At the same time, admission waiting lists for new patients declined, due to the polio vaccine and other medical advancements. The members of Shriners International found themselves in a position to provide additional services to help children. A committee to identify other pediatric medical needs discovered that the only treatment center dedicated to burns in the U.S. was part of a military complex and did not specialize in treating children. In 1962, Shriners unanimously adopted a resolution to begin offering pediatric burn care services.
The healthcare system opened temporary units in Cincinnati, Ohio; Boston, Massachusetts; and Galveston, Texas, to meet the special needs of children with burn injuries while permanent quarters were created. The care provided at these hospitals and at the Shriners Children’s location in Sacramento, California, which opened in 1997, gives thousands of children each year a greater chance of surviving all types of burn injuries. Today, patients with burns covering more than 90% of their body can not only survive, but they can also lead productive, fulfilling lives.
Our burn care hospitals provide critical, surgical and rehabilitative care to children with varying degrees of new and healed burns and related scarring. Services include reconstructive and restorative surgery. In addition, patients receive physical rehabilitative care. Multidisciplinary teams work closely with patients and families to provide support during each child’s recovery and transition back to school and family life.
Spinal cord injury rehabilitation
In the 1980s, Shriners Children’s identified another need in pediatric care: rehabilitation for spinal cord injuries. Shriners Children’s Philadelphia established the first spinal cord injury unit in the United States developed specifically for children and teenagers. In 1984, the Chicago and Northern California hospitals began offering spinal cord injury rehabilitation.
At Shriners Children’s, an interdisciplinary team of surgeons and other physicians, therapists, therapeutic recreation specialists, psychologists, social workers and dietitians works together to provide individualized, comprehensive care plans. Custom care plans may include critical and intensive care; orthopedic, plastic and reconstructive surgery and neurosurgery; physical, occupational, recreation and speech therapy; psychosocial guidance and assistance; exercise-based wellness and fitness information; and experiential programs to encourage confidence and build independent living skills.
Cleft lip and palate
Approximately 5,000 children are born each year with deformities of the upper lip and mouth, and comprehensive, long-term care for these children is often difficult to obtain. That’s why Shriners Children’s added cleft lip and palate care as an official service line in 2005.
At Shriners Children’s, patients with a cleft lip and/or palate are treated by a multidisciplinary team to improve their appearance and their ability to eat, breathe and communicate. Each patient’s unique treatment plan may include surgery, orthodontics, hearing, speech and psychological therapies, along with specialized support.
In addition to providing medical care, our care teams work with each patient and family to help them understand the complexities and implications of the child’s medical condition. The staff takes the time to listen to patients and help them develop the confidence and self-esteem needed to overcome their challenges and move into the adult world successfully. It’s something we call wrap-around care.
Due to the nature of many conditions treated at Shriners Children’s, young patients often face a long road to recovery. Helping kids develop skills to adapt, as well as other more intangible inner strengths such as self-esteem and confidence, is part of the work and mission of Shriners Children’s.
Child life specialists teach patients coping skills through play and learning, and they coordinate special events, holiday celebrations and other activities to make the hospital a fun and comfortable place.
Shriners Children’s also offers a variety of experiential programs that help patients develop psychosocial skills, ranging from camps to therapeutic horseback riding to skiing adventures. Some locations have also hosted specialized camps for patients with hand deficiencies, burns and spinal cord injuries.
Reaching more kids in more places
In recent years, the medical community has seen a shift toward providing more procedures on an outpatient basis. This, along with efforts to adjust to the rising cost of healthcare, prompted Shriners Children’s to shift its emphasis toward same-day surgeries and to forge strategic relationships with local care providers that offer inpatient care, where appropriate.
These efforts allow Shriners Children’s to provide excellent care more effectively and efficiently, and offer a greater ability to reach and serve more children.
In addition, while Shriners Children’s has physical locations in the United States, Mexico and Canada, staff members share its compassion and expertise globally. They hold hundreds of outreach clinics annually, traveling around the world to provide care.
*Shriners Children’s has a long history of providing customized, quality orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) devices to children who need them. These devices give kids with missing limbs and other orthopedic difficulties the chance to play musical instruments, dance, play sports and be active participants in the world around them. Our O&P staff has a long history of setting industry standards and educating other O&P professionals.
*Shriners Children’s is an internationally recognized leader in clinical motion analysis. The sophisticated technology of motion analysis is similar to that used to animate characters for films and video games. The technology used in motion analysis centers collects data that provides a complete picture of how muscles, joints and bones are interacting, which helps care teams correct problems more effectively and efficiently.
What makes Shriners Children’s unique are the seemingly unlimited efforts to improve the lives of patients and families. The dedication to meeting children’s needs that has always been the hallmark of the Shriners organizations makes it possible for patients to dream big and accomplish more than they may have ever believed possible.