One Heart Beat Away

The Chautauqua region has good reason to support a fund to benefit pediatric cardiology patients at WCA Hospital while honoring a remarkable man who adopted this community and revered its hospital.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that man.”

A bold statement but the truth for many of the Jamestown area patients of Dr. Robert Loring Gingell, WCA Hospital pediatric cardiologist. These were the words spoken by his patients when they heard of his death at 75. They had received his care since they were born with a congenital heart defect.

“Dr. Gingell’s death was so unexpected and I didn’t want his patients to hear about it in the paper,” said Katherine (Katie) Hoxie, senior cardiac ultrasound technician at WCA Hospital. “I had three pages of patients’ names who saw him at WCA. I called all of them so they would hear it from us and would have a chance to pay their respects.”

“It was emotionally draining,” Hoxie said of the calls, “but it was validating to hear all those stories.

“I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without him,” she said.

WCA Hospital’s cardiology department received Dr. Gingell’s expert service for 26 years while he shared his professional practice between hospitals in Buffalo and WCA Hospital as part of Pediatric Cardiology Associates in Buffalo. Dr. Joseph D. Orie, one of Gingell’s partners, has now taken on his role in Jamestown.

“Dr. Orie came down, stepped right in,” Hoxie said. “Dr. Gingell helped train him – that gives patients comfort and confidence in him. We didn’t miss a step treating patients.

“You have to be a special kind of doctor to do this specialty,” Hoxie continued. “They are all very kind and patient oriented.

“The public doesn’t think of WCA Hospital as a big-city hospital, and they may be hesitant to come here. But in Buffalo, they can’t do any more than we can do. Once people come here, they say they know that they came to the right place. If they need surgery, we send them away as needed,” Hoxie said, alluding to the pediatric cardiology surgical centers in Rochester and Pittsburgh.

“When we’d have a new patient, they’d ask me, ‘What is he like?’ I’d tell them he is as brilliant a doctor as he is a nice person,” she said, remembering her 17 years working along-side her mentor.

“He worked with parents answering their questions, especially since he was a pediatrician before becoming a pediatric cardiologist. Sometimes parents would come in after their child would have open heart surgery and tell him, ‘They are going to turn off our heat,'” Hoxie said. “He’d write letters to the utility companies advocating for the child’s well being.

“When I first started learning pediatrics, we had a 10- or 12-year-old boy as a patient. Dr. Gingell came in and talked to him and his Mom. When we were finished, the boy got up and put his arms around Dr. Gingell. I left the room sobbing,” Hoxie said.

“If he wasn’t the person he was, I don’t know if I could have done this. He assured me I could. Because of him, I could see what we did made a difference,” Hoxie said. “I love feeling like you can make a difference. You don’t always get that from adults.”

LEADING EDGE

“He wanted technology here. That way he could get his reports immediately. He even offered to help pay for it. He was always technologically advanced,” Hoxie said of her mentor.

Dr. Gingell’s love of technology can be traced back to his tenure as director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo from 1979 to 2000. While there, he computerized the lab and wrote its original computer program himself. During his years as a pediatric cardiologist, Gingell was a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and was an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Buffalo Medical School.

Dr. Gingell’s path to his specialty began with a bachelor’s degree from American University and graduation from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. As an ensign in the Navy Reserve Medical Corps, he spent a summer doing research at Bethesda Naval Hospital. After an internship at the University of Maryland Hospital, he entered the Navy as a lieutenant.

“When Bob was in med school, he wanted to be a surgeon,” said his wife Marjorie (Marty) Towson Gingell. “He took internships in medicine and peds. When he was in the Navy in California, he was the only doctor on the base who had any pediatric experience so he was made the base pediatrician.

“After the service, he went on to a three-year residency in pediatrics at the University of Maryland. The chief of pediatrics at the University of Maryland Hospital, Dr. Marvin Cornblath, told Bob they needed a pediatric cardiologist.” explained his wife. “So, he then became a fellow in pediatric cardiology at the John Hopkins Hospital.”

HEART AT WCA

“There was a special connection to this place and his patients here,” said Hoxie about Dr. Gingell. “When he retired up there, everyone thought they lost him. Some of his Buffalo patients started coming to WCA to see him when they found out he was still practicing here.

“The patients here just had a special place in his heart. Some of his patients were in their 40s and had been with him since birth,” Hoxie said. “It’s hard to find specialists to come to our small town, especially ones like him.”

Dr. Gingell’s family felt the same way.

“Bob always cared about the credentialing of staff to continue the certification of pediatric cardiology at WCA,” said his wife.

“What he devoted his life work to is children’s heart disease. WCA is where he loved doing it because it’s a community hospital that is trying to give the best it can to the community. When he died, we loved the idea of having memorials come to WCA. It’s where he dedicated his life’s work,” she continued.

KEEPING HIS STAR SHINING

Marty Gingell, her three children, their spouses and grandchildren all agreed starting a perpetually endowed fund at the WCA Foundation in Dr. Gingell’s memory was the perfect vehicle to honor his life’s passion and remember him.

“It keeps his star shining,” concluded Marty.

The Robert L. Gingell, M.D., Memorial Fund will benefit WCA Hospital’s service to pediatric cardiology patients for years to come as he is remembered and his life’s work is perpetuated. Family, friends, grateful patients and the community are welcomed to use this fund to honor not only Dr. Gingell’s memory but to honor or remember others. WCA Foundation sends notice to those honored or to the family of those remembered and receipts to the giver for their tax-exempt gift. Donations may be sent to the Robert L. Gingell, M.D., Fund, WCA Foundation, and P.O. Box 840, Jamestown, NY 14702-0840.

Brigetta E. Overcash is the executive director of the W.C.A. Foundation Inc., a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization supporting the health care initiatives of WCA Hospital. Contact her at 664-8600 to discuss donations to this fund or to create a fund to support the award-winning regional hospital.