Melchijah Spragins

[Age 87] The Johns Hopkins graduate was chief of pediatrics at Greater Baltimore Medical Center for 20 years.

April 05, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Dr. Melchijah Spragins, a retired pediatrician who had been chief of pediatrics at Greater Baltimore Medical Center for two decades, died in his sleep Tuesday at the Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. He was 87.

It was Dr. Spragins' charm, wit and comforting demeanor that endeared him to patients and colleagues during his more than four-decade career as a pediatrician.

"He took care of my kids, and he treated his patients like they were members of his own family. He was natural, down-to-earth and homespun but very erudite and one in a million. He really was a dear man," said Dr. Charles Haile, chief of infectious diseases at GBMC. Dr. William A. Sinton, a Towson pediatrician, met Dr. Spragins when he was a resident at University Hospital in 1957.

"He'd come down one day a week and conduct a clinical conference, where residents presented him difficult diagnostic problems. Sometimes they would deliberately leave details out, and he would still whip right through them," Dr. Sinton said. "He was a tremendous and brilliant diagnostician. It was always a pleasure working with him."

Dr. Spragins, who was born and raised on his family's farm near Upper Marlboro, was named for an uncle who was a physician.

He was a 1937 graduate of City College and worked part time while earning a bachelor's degree from the Johns Hopkins University in 1941, and his medical degree from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in 1944.

Dr. Spragins, who was known as Mel, found his life's work while working with children at the Harriet Lane Home for Invalid Children that was on the grounds of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"He found the physiological development of children intriguing, as when a child was managed correctly, you could see startling good results in a short period of time compared to adults," said a son, William Safford Spragins of Denver.

While completing his residency at Children's Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y., Dr. Spragins met the former Betsey Rochester, a hospital technician. They collaborated on a three-year study of measles that was published in 1950 in Pediatrics, a medical journal.

In 1948, Dr. Spragins established his pediatric practice on Allegheny Avenue in Towson, and the next year married Miss Rochester.

In the early 1960s, Dr. Spragins became involved with the planning and development of the pediatrics unit and neonatal nurseries at GBMC.

"He was a real pioneer with his work at GBMC in establishing neonatal care," said Dr. Victor A. Khouzami, who is in charge of the department of obstetrics at the hospital.

Dr. Spragins was chief of pediatrics at the hospital from 1966 to 1986. He served as the hospital's chief of staff from 1974 to 1980.

After stepping down from his position at GBMC, Dr. Spragins continued in private practice until retiring in 1989.

He enjoyed being around children and reveled in their "basic innocence and utterly trusting nature" as well as "their humorous antics," his son said.

"He always had a busy practice, and it wasn't uncommon for him to spend the night with a seriously ill child," Dr. Sinton said.

Dr. Spragins, who favored hand-tied bow ties and driving Volkswagen Beetles, believed in the value medically and psychologically of house calls, which sometimes amounted to 30 or more a day.

"He was gentle and kind person and not the least bit arrogant. He was humble and a true gentleman," said Dr. Timothy F. Doran, chairman of pediatrics at GBMC. "He was a Renaissance man who was beloved by his patients."

"It was unfortunate that I had severe asthma as a child but fortunate that he was my doctor. He was a wonderful guy who believed that his patients always came first," said Stockton T. Baker, a former Baltimorean who now lives in Denver. "He's still the physician by which I measure all others."

Before moving to Broadmead in 1995, Dr. Spragins lived in Lutherville for many years and enjoyed caring for a large vegetable garden and orchard of fruit trees in his 2 1/2 -acre yard.

He loved to ride his bike, take walks and read about the Civil War.

"He was the after-hours and weekend de facto neighborhood doctor, attending to the various cuts, bumps, bruises and bee stings absorbed by a large group of active, growing neighborhood children," his son said.

Dr. Spragins was a longtime communicant of Trinity Episcopal Church, 120 Allegheny Ave., Towson, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. April 14.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two other sons, Melchijah Spragins Jr. of Chicago and James Stith Spragins of Lutherville; and two grandchildren. An additional son, John Rochester Spragins, died in 1990.

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