Thirty years have elapsed since I started working at Carolinas Medical Center. When I arrived in 1982, the entire pediatric faculty consisted of four physicians and the hospital was called Charlotte Memorial Hospital. One of these physicians was a general pediatrician named JC Parke whose story you should know because it is central to the formation and success of today’s Levine Children’s Hospital.
Dr. Parke started in Charlotte as all of us did, a general community pediatrician. Dr. Parke may have been a small town boy raised in rural South Carolina, but he was no ordinary person as he quickly proved. When Charlotte Memorial Hospital decided to start a pediatric department, Dr. Parke jumped at the opportunity to be involved. He left his successful private practice to become the first chairman of what is now the Pediatric Department at Carolinas Medical Center.
Dr. Parke envisioned what a community hospital could become, and he worked tirelessly to build a first class pediatric inpatient and outpatient facility as well as a highly regarded pediatric residency program. He actually created the “original pediatric hospital” at CMC before there was a Levine Children’s version.
You would think that creating a pediatric hospital and residency program from scratch would have sufficed, but Dr. Parke had larger goals. J.C., as he liked to be called, was just beginning to make an impact with these accomplishments. In his spare time he began doing vaccine research lab in a small lab on the CMC campus. J.C. hoped to develop an effective vaccine to halt the most common type of meningitis at the time, meningitis caused by Hemophilus Influenza type B, known today as the HIB germ. Prior to the HIB vaccine, this germ devastated tens of thousands of children each year with an assortment of illnesses including meningitis, septic arthritis, pneumonia, and epiglottitis. Dr. Parke understood that HIB diseases usually start with a common cold in small children, taking hold in their noses and invading their little bodies. If the germ made it into their blood stream, as it often did, these children really didn’t have a chance—at least not until Dr. Parke arrived on the scene. He figured out how to do what no one else had been able to do: he created a vaccine that would prevent the invasion of the HIB germ and thus protect very young children from getting HIB diseases.
Fortunately, Dr. Parke’s vaccine worked beautifully and was licensed in 1985. Due to the vaccine, HIB diseases almost overnight began to disappear in the United States and throughout the world. Dr. Parke’s vaccine, created right here at in a lab at Carolinas Medical Center and tested on children in our community, changed the world forever. Today his vaccine is administered to almost every child. Your children have undoubtedly received it and you should be grateful that they did. As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of Levine Children’s Hospital, let’s take a moment to recognize one of our founders, Dr. JC Parke—a legend in my book.