Brighton Doctor Helps Give Premature Babies a Chance at Life

April 09, 2001

William Maniscalco, M.D., has devoted most of his adult life to helping tiny babies overcome overwhelming odds. When he isn't fostering medical miracles, chances are he's riding his bicycle as many as 30 miles a day.

His reason for cycling mirrors his reason for practicing medicine. "I just do it because I like it," he says.

Originally from Westfield, Mass., Maniscalco became a physician in 1972. Six years later, he brought his talent and passion for treating sick and premature infants to Children's Hospital at Strong.

In the 1980s, he and several colleagues from Children's Hospital at Strong played a big role in the development of surfactant, a synthetic drug designed for the inside of immature lungs. It has saved the lives of thousands of premature infants born with an often deadly breathing problem called respiratory distress syndrome.

On April 1, Maniscalco became Chief of the Division of Neonatology, one of the most important departments at Children's Hospital at Strong. He oversees the 52-bed Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) - including a staff of more than 150 - and helps manage thriving research and teaching programs. His predecessor, Dale Phelps, M.D., served as chief for 10 years.

"The NICU is a great place to work because we can make such a huge difference for children and their families," Maniscalco says. "We have a wonderful staff. The nurses are really the glue that keeps the unit together."

Elizabeth McAnarney, M.D., pediatrician-in-chief for Children's Hospital at Strong, says the hospital is fortunate to have Maniscalco, a national leader in the field of neonatology, on staff. "His leadership in research, patient care, and teaching is exemplary," she says.

As a teen-ager, Maniscalco had no intention of studying medicine. It wasn't until his second year of college that he realized he could meld his interest in biology with his passion to help others. One of his favorite courses was embryology and that led him to study neonatology.

"I was fascinated with biology, especially by how babies develop from a single cell," Maniscalco says. "I wanted to study the processes that are required to go from that single cell to such a complex body.

"Neonatology is such an exciting field, one that is on the cutting-edge of medicine in so many ways," he says. "The big difference is that today we're able to save smaller, more fragile infants and many of them grow up to enjoy full, healthy lives. Twenty years ago, that wasn't the case."

Neonatologists working at Children's Hospital at Strong spend as many as four months on a rotating basis attending to babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They do so in pairs, each working during the day and taking turns every other night being on-call for a month at a time.

"Publishing papers in scientific journals provides a high point, as does playing a role in the development of breakthrough drugs such as surfactant," Maniscalco says.

"But there's no higher point in this job than being right at the bedside and helping an infant."

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