The History of the Clinic for Special Children
In the late 1980s Dr. Holmes Morton, a Harvard trained pediatrician, was pursuing a biochemical fellowship at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. During the fellowship, he diagnosed an Amish child with Glutaric Acidemia type-1 (GA-1). He would then go on to diagnose another 16 patients from the Amish community with GA-1 as well as individuals with another rare disorder called Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD) in Lancaster’s Old Order Mennonite population. These disorders were neurologically devastating and many children suffered greatly from these diseases.
Now three decades later, the clinic is still thriving on the cutting edge of genomic research.
In order to provide local, affordable services Dr. Morton and his wife Caroline partnered with the local Amish and Mennonite populations to found the non-profit Clinic for Special Children in 1989. In 1990, the original post-and-beam style building was raised largely by volunteers from the Plain communities. In 2000, an expansion was added to the original building, adding more office and exam room space.
Since its founding, the Clinic for Special Children has endeavored to integrate advanced laboratory techniques into every day primary pediatric care. A molecular geneticist, Dr. Erik Puffenberger, was hired in 1998, opening the door for faster, more accurate diagnoses using molecular techniques. Today, the Clinic operates a CLIA certified, PA state licensed clinical laboratory focusing on biochemical and genetic tests that are most important to our patient population’s needs.
The integration of clinical and laboratory services has generated many opportunities for research and scholarly work. This includes natural history studies, clinical trials, and gene variant identification. Research and clinical efforts were enhanced by hiring a second pediatrician in 2001, the Harvard trained Dr. Kevin Strauss. Dr. Strauss became Medical Director in 2008 and has authored many of the seminal works in the treatment of disorders observed at CSC. Collaborations with academic and industry partners has helped to bring resources to determining the molecular consequences of the variants identified in the clinic’s lab.
Although the clinic was founded to treat metabolic disorders, the organization now treats patients with genetic disorders of all types. The organization is envisioned as a medical home for patients, meaning they can see physicians knowledgeable about their disorder when they are sick and when they are well. In order to enhance the idea of a medical home, the Clinic has forged collaborative relationships with individual physicians and healthcare organizations to provide affordable specialty care on site, making the services more accessible to patients.
After many years of distinguished service, Caroline Morton retired from her staff position and Dr. Morton departed the organization in 2016. However, their legacy of tireless service lives on in the day to day service provided by the Clinic.
Internationally recognized as an innovative medical and scientific organization, the Clinic for Special Children has remained on the cutting edge of genomic and translational medicine. However, despite the innovative and pioneering nature of the organization, the Clinic has remained focused on its most important task: providing care to vulnerable individuals with genetic disease.