Congratulations to Dr. Stephen Levine for being named the 2020 Bettina C. Hilman Award for Services to Special Needs Children award recipient. This award honors pediatricians who have provided significant services for special needs children in the state. Dr. Brian M. Barkemeyer nominated Dr. Levine for the award.
Dr. Bettina Hilman was a renowned authority on pediatric cystic fibrosis. She spent a major part of her career as a researcher and faculty member in the Department of Pediatrics at the LSU School of Medicine in Shreveport. Throughout her career she was a strong advocate for her patients, for advancing pediatric care, for medical education, and for women in medicine.
Like Dr. Hilman, Dr. Levine served as a pediatric pulmonologist. Dr. Levine recently retired after more than 40 years of service in pediatric pulmonary and critical care. Over the course of his career, Dr. Levine worked in the care of patients with lung diseases like cystic fibrosis, bronchopulmonary dysplasia, and asthma. For much of the early part of his career, Dr. Levine also served as medical director for the PICU at Children’s Hospital and, along with his partners, as an early version of a hospitalist. He also led the Chronic Ventilator Program for many years.
Dr. Levine was chosen for this prestigious award because of his service to children with special needs. He cared for his patients and families without shying away from a difficult situation or being anything less than honest and open with patient families. He was always available to serve as a resource for patients, families, and other clinicians, and was involved in the education of hundreds of pediatric residents. He has left an indubitable mark on these individuals over the course of his career.
During his acceptance, Dr. Levine wanted people to understand that “this is the beginning and not the end of complexity in childcare.” He described the Chronic Ventilator Program as being populated by children who would have died years ago and are now left with sequela. These children require a lot more help whether it be seizure medication, special bracing, or scoliosis surgery. “These things are left when you survive, and there has to be a body of physicians who understand this,” Dr. Levine explained. When talking about the children in his care he said “I never thought of them as special needs. They had needs, they were complex” and someone has to care for them.
Reflecting back on his time as a practicing physician Dr. Levine said he had no regrets. His entire life he wanted to make a difference, which is why he went into pediatrics. Dr. Levine said he was led to the PICU to give children back to families who have been told they might not come back, or never get well or told they wouldn’t survive. He said “you can’t turn your back on your successes just because it’s hard to take care of them, and I think that’s something more pediatricians will learn as more of these children survive.”
Dr. Levine would like to thank Dr. Barkemeyer, the Academy on all levels, his family and all those who have supported him. He thanked all colleagues he has had the fortune to work with over the years, “who taught me you must complete the task. You can’t just walk away when it gets difficult, that’s cheating almost.” Dr. Levine also thanked all those he influenced over the years, including “the residents and medical students who I enjoyed teaching beyond belief.”
He cared for the most vulnerable, often the most disenfranchised, and sometimes just special needs kids who did not have someone else to care for them. With Dr. Levine’s recent retirement, our state has lost a valuable clinical resource for special needs children, but the legacy he leaves behind will endure for many years to come.