Tale Of The Pediatrician Snatched To Treat The Kennedy Baby

The Kennedy family plot in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, on Nov. 23, 1963. The headstone marks grave of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, third child of the slain president, who died in August at less than 2 days old. (Frank C. Curtin/AP)

The Kennedy family plot in Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, on Nov. 23, 1963. The headstone marks grave of Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, third child of the slain president, who died at less than 2 days old, with respiratory distress. (Frank C. Curtin/AP)

Fifty years ago this week, Patrick Bouvier Kennedy, the president and first lady’s baby who was born five-and-a-half weeks premature, died while doctors at Boston Children’s Hospital tried to save him. Last week, The New York Times took a look back and recounted the medical drama with rich detail.

But apparently, according to the son of one of the doctors involved in baby Kennedy’s care (and a very distant, non-blood relative of mine), not all of the details were completely right.

The small bit of misinformation involves the moment when Dr. Samuel Levine, a pioneering New York pediatrician and professor at Cornell University Medical College, was snatched from Manhattan and flown to Boston to help treat the ailing infant, according to the doctor’s son, Ted Levine. Here’s what the Times wrote:

Pierre Salinger, the White House press secretary, conveyed a message from Mrs. Kennedy’s sister, Lee Radziwill, who urged the president to send for Dr. Samuel Z. Levine, a prominent Manhattan pediatrician who had cared for her own premature baby. Secret Service agents located him strolling in Central Park and whisked the startled physician to Boston.

Not true, says Ted, the 86-year-old son of Samuel, who was an expert in the field of pediatric nutrition. I spoke to Ted at his home in Rye, N.Y., and he said that, in fact, his father was not in the park, but rather at home in his apartment at 69th Street and First Avenue, when officials picked him up, placed him in a police car and drove him, sirens blasting, the wrong way down a one way street, toward a waiting plane.

When his wife came home to an empty apartment and the doorman told her the story of the police car, she briefly thought her husband had been arrested. On the contrary: Dr. Levine had received a call directly from Kennedy, Ted said, in which the president said, “I want you to try to save my baby Patrick.”

Here’s the full account, lightly edited, based on our conversation and from an email sent by Ted and his wife, Pat, to family members, clarifying the Times report:

It carries a couple of paragraphs describing Sam’s trip to Boston and involvement in the team that was working to save Patrick Kennedy. It is pretty accurate in describing Sam’s involvement but as family members who remember those few days exactly fifty years ago—we could add a bit:

l. [Dr. Levine's] Wife Bella was out shopping—when she returned the doorman informed her in rather hysterical terms “Mrs. Levine, I don’t know what happened but the police just came—put Dr. Levine in the back seat of the police car and went down the street—the wrong way with the sirens going full blast.” When Bella went upstairs to her apartment, [their] long time housekeeper Virginia Washington told her that the President himself had called Sam…and asked him to come up to Boston immediately to be part of the team trying to save the baby. He was rushed to LaGuardia — flown to Boston, he thought on Air Force One — then flown by helicopter to the hospital all in less than two hours.

2. Sam told us he was very impressed with the personal efficiency of the President and couldn’t believe how he showed so much genuine concern to Baby Patrick’s condition and could still keep the wheels of the Oval Office running.

3. We all know the story of how Sam returned to NYC — leaving in such a hurry that morning he didn’t even have his wallet with him — he had to borrow money from an intern at the hospital in Boston to return not by Air Force one but by train to NYC.

ANYHOW THAT’S HOW WE REMEMBER IT.

Dr. Levine died in July 1971.

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