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Retiring pediatrician says vaccines changed everything

Cathy Pantelic, 21, of Santa Monica, Calif., left, was Dr. Frank Kellogg's last patient.
ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Cathy Pantelic, 21, of Santa Monica, Calif., left, was Dr. Frank Kellogg's last patient. ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER Purchase photo reprints »

If you think today’s world can be a perilous place for children, imagine life in the 1950s.

Seat belts in cars were not widely used, much less required. A kid wearing a bike helmet would have been mocked mercilessly. The child-resistant safety cap for prescription medication wasn’t invented until 1967.

“Back then, we’d get a lot of poisonings,” said Dr. L. Frank Kellogg, who opened his pediatric practice in Garden Grove, Calif., in 1956, along with his partner, Dr. Robert Patterson. “In the early years of the practice, we had a deal: He’d sew up the lacerations if I’d pump the stomachs.”

Kellogg described how a child would have this done: “You’d restrain them so they couldn’t resist, and have a tube as thick as your thumb to put down the stomach and wash water in and out until the medicine came out.”

Take a moment to shudder. Now let’s take another moment to mark an incredible career. Kellogg, who turned 87 last week, has now retired from his post at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group in Santa Ana, Calif. He said goodbyes to his tearful staff at the office and packed up the many flowers and gifts bestowed by colleagues and former patients.

His last patient on his last day was not a child but a woman: Cathy Pantelic, 21. Kellogg had been her primary-care physician since she was an infant. She’s a senior at UCLA, Kellogg’s alma mater, and plans to go to law school. She drove from Santa Monica just to make this appointment, although she didn’t really need to see Kellogg for anything except to say thanks and good luck.

“I’m finally growing up,” she said. “This is like the last thing that was needed.”

Before vaccines

Kellogg remembers the days before there were ways to prevent diseases like polio, which ravaged children and families during the first half of the 20th century. The disease was virtually eradicated because of vaccines put into widespread use in the 1950s and ‘60s.

“It was really terrible. Everybody knew somebody who had polio. It was a big fear of the mothers. And the vaccines came in and eliminated it,” he said. “Because of the vaccine, I don’t even have to think of it now. What a relief.”

He has a modern but flexible view of vaccines: He urges parents to stick to the established pediatric vaccination schedule, but he acknowledges there’s “a lot of emotion in it.”

“My main concern is to get the kids immunized,” he said. “So if people decide we want some unorthodox schedule, that’s OK, too, to go along with it. Not so good the ones who don’t like vaccines at all. Some offices kick them out, saying, ‘I’m not going to be liable if this doesn’t work out.’ I wouldn’t do that, because their best bet of getting immunized is to finally convince them that it’s OK to go ahead with this in some measure. That’s their best hope.”

He feels the same about the vaccine to prevent human papillomavirus, which can lead to cervical cancer and genital warts. Boys and girls are recommended to get three doses of the vaccine around age 11 or 12, but the subject is sometimes awkward with parents, because the virus is spread through sexual contact.

“The parents think if we do this, it means they may have sex with somebody someday, which is true,” he said. “But it’s not really related to that. It prevents nothing but the HPV. There’s still half a dozen other things you can get by being sexually active, you’re not protected against.

“So it’s a good way of finding out about the parents. You keep working at it, until they finally agree.”

Kellogg graduated from Anaheim High School on June 6, 1944 — D-Day. He served in the Navy, getting a head start on his pre-med education. After UCLA he entered Stanford Medical School, graduating in 1952. He interned at San Francisco General Hospital, did his residency at Stanford, and then became the first chief pediatric resident at UCLA Medical Center before he started the Garden Grove practice. He and his wife of nearly 63 years, Shirley, a former nurse, have lived in the same house in the city since 1956.

Patterson, Kellogg’s partner, retired about 15 years ago. But Kellogg kept going.

“I’ve worked this long, so I’m really used to it, and I really enjoy it. And it’s just hard to let it go.”

He has plenty to do. For instance, he’s incredibly trim and fit, as a result of working out 45 minutes a day, four to five times a week, at 24 Hour Fitness. Yet he hopes to partially unretire by working with residents at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, where he has been on staff since it opened in 1964. On the day he retired, he went home and prepared to leave for New York the next day for a four-day medical conference.

He quotes an obituary he read, about Dr. Leila Daughtry Denmark, a Georgia pediatrician who practiced until she was 103. She died last year at 114.

“She said the secret was to do what you do best, for as long as you can. I’ve sort of pursued that.”

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