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Doctors say fight for the ‘soul’ of Children’s Hospital isn’t over

Prouty Garden.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File

Tucked up and away from the medical-industrial complex along Longwood Avenue, a lovely oasis of green at Boston Children’s Hospital is decked out in holiday splendor this week. And yet, there is a pall over the place.

It looks like this is the last Christmas for the Prouty Garden, a 23,000-square-foot jewel of quiet nooks, decorative fountains, and a soaring dawn redwood tree about to be bulldozed to make way for more private rooms, a heart center, and a new neonatal intensive care unit at Children’s.

Hospital administrators say alternatives have been studied, other options weighed. If we want to remain a leader in pediatrics, they say, this is what we must do.


At this point, it would take a miracle to save the garden. But men and women who perform miracles at Children’s every day, among them doctors who have watched their patients take their last breath in that verdant space, are not giving up.

They love Children’s Hospital. They have dedicated their lives and their careers to the place. They do not seek to demonize an administration committed to plowing under the garden. But in unusually forceful, emotional, and risk-taking candor, they say if the bulldozers roll early next year, Children’s Hospital has lost its way.

Listen to them:

“If we lose Prouty Garden, this would be a stain on the history of Children’s Hospital that can’t be erased,’’ said Dr. John B. Mulliken, the director of Children’s Craniofacial Center, one of 125 professionals who have signed a petition to save the garden. “I don’t think we’re a bunch of nuts. We’re not a fringe group.’’

Prouty Garden at Boston Children’s Hospital.Thomas Farragher/Globe Staff

Dr. Michael Rich has worked at Children’s for a quarter of a century, his entire career. He remembers sitting in the garden 20 years ago with an 11-year-old boy dying from cancer. The child wanted to feel the breeze on his face and hear the birds singing in the trees.


“It betrays an arrogance and a misunderstanding by our leadership about what we do here,’’ Rich told me. “We’re not making widgets. The garden offers an intimate human connection. For us to kill life, as in killing that garden, is completely antithetical to what our mission is.’’

Dr. Robert Truog, a pediatric critical care physician at Children’s and the director of the Center for Bioethics at Harvard Medical School, said the Olmsted-designed garden — named in memory of author Olive Higgins Prouty’s daughters — is a gem that, once lost, can never be recovered.

“I’ve been proud of the way that space had been considered sacred and a core part of what the hospital stands for,’’ Truog said. “It’s sad to see that sacrificed for logistical and financial reasons.’’

I wanted to talk to the leaders of the hospital about this. But a Children’s spokesman said they would not speak with me.

Instead, the hospital issued a prepared statement that said, in part: “Lost among some who resist any changes to the Prouty Garden is that the proposed plans are the best way forward for our patients, their families, our clinicians, and staff to reimagine the Longwood campus to remain the leader in pediatrics.’’

The Children’s administration has cleverly constructed a difficult-to-dispute argument for the garden’s destruction. It goes like this: Do you want a garden with tinkling fountains, singing birds, and darting squirrels and rabbits? Or do you want a clinical space where we can treat little kids?


It’s a false choice. If the Prouty Garden didn’t exist, would Children’s simply throw up its hands and say: “That’s it, we can’t grow anymore?’’ Of course not. It would find another space for its new 11-story building.

People like Gus Murby, whose 17-year-old son died in the Garden on a Sunday morning eight Septembers ago after a courageous fight against leukemia, are praying for an 11th-hour reprieve.

“The day that the dawn redwood comes down,’’ Murby said, “Children’s Hospital loses its soul.’’

Eminent entomologist Edward O. Wilson, a two-time Pulitzer winner and Harvard professor emeritus, wrote this to Children’s: “What you plan will put you on the wrong side of history.’’

Time runs desperately short. A review by the attorney general is pending. Garden supporters have hired a lawyer and a lawsuit is under serious consideration.

But the bulldozers are revving up. Prouty Garden needs a miracle.

Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at thomas.farragher@globe.com.