November 20, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 38

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Escobedo leaves mark of neonatal excellence

Medical

Dr. Marilyn B. Escobedo, a compassionate physician and innovative leader who guided the expansion of neonatal services at the Health Science Center and in the University Health System for more than two decades, has announced plans to leave the faculty in December. Dr. Escobedo and her family are moving to Oklahoma.

Dr. Escobedo, professor of pediatrics at the Health Science Center and head of the Division of Neonatology, stepped down Oct. 12 as medical director of University Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and newborn services. Her longtime colleague, Dr. Steven R. Seidner, associate professor of pediatrics, assumed those duties and has been selected as the new division head effective the end of this month.

Since her appointment as division head at the age of 33, Dr. Escobedo’s tenure at the Health Science Center has been marked by a series of firsts. In 1987, just 10 years after her recruitment from Indiana University, she was promoted to professor of pediatrics, becoming the first woman medical physician to attain that rank in the Medical School. She was the first woman to serve as chairman of the Medical Faculty Assembly and the first woman medical staff officer at University Hospital.

She was integral to the design teams for three facility constructions at University Hospital. She introduced new NICU design concepts, including the first fully computerized charting system for an NICU in the United States. "When I arrived here, the neonatal intensive care unit was in the Robert B. Green Hospital (now the University Health Center Downtown)," she said. "The NICU and labor and delivery were the only services left downtown, so we were separated from the rest of the hospital. We’ve come a long way with the state-of-the-art unit and the automated charting system that we have today."


Dr. Marilyn Escobedo (left) created the PREMIEre Program that assists families of extremely low birth weight babies. Each year, ‘graduates’ of the program return to the Health Science Center courtyard for a reunion.

The NICU has provided tertiary neonatal intensive care for about 180,000 infants over the last 23 years, Dr. Escobedo wrote in a letter to colleagues.

She created the PREMIEre Program that follows the care of very small premature infants after they go home from the hospital. Her expert team has treated and monitored thousands of South Texas newborns weighing 3 pounds or less who are at highest risk for many problems, including respiratory distress. Some of those babies are in college now. "I’ve always been devoted to the idea that when you take care of a young patient in an intensive care unit, you are obligated to follow him and work with the family for his continued development," Dr. Escobedo said. "The heart of the issue is that we want to save the life of a child, so that he has the opportunity to fulfill his potential."

She has recruited many talented colleagues to the Health Science Center, including Drs. Alice Gong, Steven Seidner, Robert Castro, Mike Odom, Harry Gunkel and Jean Petershack and Richard Stribley. "I did not recruit Dr. Rajam Ramamurthy; she was already in the Division of Neonatology when I arrived and we have worked together all these years," Dr. Escobedo said. "I have had the privilege to serve with responsible, conscientious, competent colleagues whose care has represented the highest scientific standards and impeccable ethics."

Even with a heavy patient load, Dr. Escobedo has found time to conduct groundbreaking research. She is an expert in pulmonary maturation and created the first practical animal model for broncho-pulmonary dysplasia of prematurity.

She also founded CliNeTex, a clinical research consortium of Texas institutions. Her work has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Foundation March of Dimes, the Texas Department of Health, the Hogg Foundation, the South Texas Health Research Center, the American Academy of Pediatrics and other sources.

Dr. Escobedo credited Drs. Phil Burnell, John Mangos and Celia Kaye, the chairmen of pediatrics during her time in San Antonio, for their support. She will fill the Reba McEntire Endowed Chair in Neonatology at Oklahoma University. She will relocate with her husband, Sam, a longtime physical education teacher in San Antonio. The couple’s two children are in college.