If you set out to spend more than half a century practicing pediatric medicine, Dr. Robert Stone knows he was fortunate to see his career span the period between 1961 and 2016.
It was a time of great progress in children’s healthcare from vaccines and new treatments for disease to injury prevention through advocacy and education about car seats, bike helmets – even the safest way to put an infant to sleep in a crib.
“I’ve had a great career; I wouldn’t change a thing,” said Dr. Stone, who, at age 80, is officially retiring from a distinguished career that has touched just about every nook and cranny of Akron Children’s Hospital.
Around the time Dr. Stone was graduating from The Ohio State University Medical School in 1961, it was the dawn of many of the pediatric specialties, including Dr. Stone’s chosen field, pediatric gastroenterology.
After his pediatrics residency at Akron Children’s, Dr. Stone completed a National Institutes of Health (NIH) fellowship in pediatric GI at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia in 1967.
“We were all puppies,” Dr. Stone said of his class of GI fellows, who were on the cusp of developing best practices in caring for children with conditions like Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis (CF).
“I was interested in pediatric GI because it was a nice blend of general pediatrics and specialty care,” Dr. Stone said. “I appreciated the opportunity to follow children with chronic diseases long term.”
Of all the successes in the world of pediatrics, Dr. Stone is most proud of the achievements made in treating CF.
“CF was a big focus in my career and it’s gratifying to see that the mean age of survivorship has advanced from around age 10 in 1962 to well into adulthood. We are now seeing whole flocks of adults living well with CF, some even into their 50s and 60s.”
As one of the first fellowship-trained pediatric GI specialists in the country, Dr. Stone could have practiced medicine any place in the country. But he and his wife, Rochelle, chose to return to Akron after his 2-year stint in a U.S. Naval Hospital in Memphis and the NIH fellowship in Philadelphia.
Along with helping to grow one of Akron’s premier pediatric primary care practices (Rowe & Stone, which today is Pediatrics of Akron), Dr. Stone accepted numerous leadership positions at Akron Children’s over the past several decades. He’s been director of the division of Gastroenterology, director of the CF Center, chairman of the department of Pediatrics, a member of the hospital’s Board of Trustees, and chief of the medical staff.
Rochelle, meanwhile, has spent countless hours supporting the hospital through her work with the hospital’s Women’s Board, where she has chaired numerous committees and served a stint as president.
“It’s been a lifelong association,” Rochelle said of their relationship with Akron Children’s. “We are part of the hospital family. I think when you are born and raised in a community you have vested interest in seeing that community thrive.”
In 1999, Dr. Stone’s brother and sister-in-law, Don and Marcia Stone, presented the hospital with a gift in his honor and the hospital’s respiratory center was renamed the Robert T. Stone Respiratory Center.
The funds and Dr. Stone’s commitment to the center allowed that division to grow and attract well-respected specialists.
“Before this [gift], I was by myself seeing patients in shared space and the CF center and pulmonary function lab were not part of the pulmonary division,” said Dr. Greg Omlor, director of the Lewis H. Walker Cystic Fibrosis Center. “With the opening of the Stone Respiratory Center, we were able to attract Drs. McBride and Martinez, finally had dedicated space to see patients, and the CF Center and PFT lab became part of the pulmonary division.”
Even when he retired from Pediatrics of Akron 10 years ago, Dr. Stone continued to serve as associate chair for community affairs in the hospital’s Department of Pediatrics. A late-in-life career highlight was helping to start the hospital’s Summer Pediatric Research Scholars Program, giving college students interested in careers in medical fields the opportunity to spend a summer working with a hospital mentor on a research project.
“I would have killed to have had an opportunity like that,” Dr. Stone said.
Now that he is stepping down from his administrative role, the Stones plan to spend more time with family and friends, make more time for golf in both Akron and Hilton Head, and generally slow down just a bit.
He leaves after not only playing a critical role in keeping the children of Akron safe and healthy, but also inspiring younger pediatricians and pediatric specialists.
“I have always found Dr. Bob Stone to be one who deeply cares about the profession of pediatrics,” said Dr. Joel Davidson, of the Locust Pediatric Care Group. “He has extended his wealth of knowledge, time, energy and enthusiasm for the care of children to all he meets. I came here as a resident, in part, because Dr. Stone used to talk to incoming resident candidates. Later in my residency, I remember he gave a lecture about the importance of balance in the profession. He spoke fondly of the role his wife played in his career success and work family balance. ‘Family dinner is important,’ he told us. ‘Sometimes you will miss it because kids need your help, but make sure you don’t make a habit of it, because your own family needs you too.’”
Dr. Gregory Omlor also first met Dr. Stone when he was a resident.
“To me, he was the ideal physician who provided excellent care for his patients and was committed to educating residents,” said Dr. Omlor. “His care of patients with cystic fibrosis partly led to my decision to go into pulmonary medicine.”
According to Dr. Stone, experience only makes a pediatrician better. He honed open-ended questions and realized how much he benefited from years of listening to parents’ concerns.
Dr. Stone noted that a pediatrician’s role has expanded well beyond diagnosing coughs and tummy aches to being a resource for families on issues like food insecurity, childhood obesity, bullying, substance abuse and mental illness.
His advice to young pediatricians: “Keep an open mind. Listen closely – families have a lot of burdens. Don’t pontificate. Try very hard not to be judgmental, and try to educate quietly.”