“Dear Dr. Feigin:
How are you? I’m fine. One day I saw you on T.V. I could not believe it. I miss you very much. I’m playing basketball. We won our 1 and 2 games. I made one basket in the first game.”
–Leslie Grigg, (1980)
This note was tucked into a Valentine’s Day card that a little girl wrote to the doctor credited for pulling her through bacterial spinal meningitis at St. Louis Children’s Hospital when she was just 3 years old. It was followed by years of Valentine’s Day correspondences between Leslie (Grigg) Garvin and Dr. Ralph Feigin, even after the pediatric infectious disease specialist had moved on to become the physician-in-chief at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
The relationship between Dr. Feigin and the Grigg family began with a middle-of-the-night ride to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital. Shortly after arriving, little Leslie went into shock, had a cardiac arrest and lapsed into a coma. She was immediately placed on a respirator and Dr. Feigin or one of the house physicians remained by her bedside 24-7.
Over the next few weeks, it looked grim, the illness creating one dire consequence after another. Cards and letters poured in from family and friends around the country. Dr. Feigin and Leslie’s parents refused to give up hope, but with each passing day it became more and more difficult.
Then, one day, shortly after Valentine’s Day of 1976, Leslie woke up.
Even though the effects of her illness were evident — she woke up completely deaf and blind and paralyzed on her right side, everyone pulling for her rejoiced. Little by little, her eyesight and some of her hearing came back, and after a year of physical therapy, her paralysis completely disappeared.
“Dear Dr. Feigin:
How have you been doing lately? I am still playing the piano. I will be playing in front of a judge in a few months and I am already preparing for it. I am doing very well in the 7th grade. Just recently I dissected an earthworm and a starfish in science class. It was very interesting to see all the parts.”
–Leslie Grigg (1986)
I was really delighted to receive your beautiful card, your extensive note and the many pictures you sent. Every year, you seem to grow a great deal, but I know that if I saw you, I would recognize you because you have kept me up to date with all the pictures that you have sent me over the years. It sounds as if your activities at school keep you extremely busy, but that you are having a wonderful time. I am pleased that, in addition to your fine academic activities, you are also participating in music... I will always think of you as a model patient.
– Ralph D. Feigin (1986)
Leslie went on to become an excellent student, an accomplished musician and an outstanding athlete. And because a sample of her blood was used to help create a vaccine for bacterial spinal meningitis, she could add ‘life saver’ to her list of accomplishments.
And this year, Leslie topped it all off by becoming a philanthropist, putting St. Louis Children’s Hospital in her charitable estate plans.
“I decided to remember all the people who helped see me through my illness and its aftermath. Children’s Hospital was at the top of the list, and a gift made to support infectious disease research is a way of keeping Dr. Feigin’s legacy alive."
In 2009, Leslie received word that Dr. Feigin had passed away. A couple of years later, she received a package in the mail containing all the Valentine’s Day letters she had ever sent him and the doctor’s responses. That poignant gesture by Dr. Feigin’s assistant showed Leslie how much she meant to the doctor who never gave up on her.