Prouty Garden, Boston, MA

Doctor's Plea to Boston Children's Hospital: Save the Prouty Garden

The Prouty Garden in a recent snowstorm with a plea from a patient’s family—“SAVE ME.”
The Prouty Garden in a recent snowstorm with a plea from a patient’s family—“SAVE ME.” - Photo courtesy of Dr. Michael Rich

Editor's Note: The following is an open letter to Stephen Karp, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Boston Children’s Hospital, from Dr. Michael Rich, M.D., M.P.H., who has been a physician at the hospital for 25 years. Dr. Rich originally sent the letter as a personal correspondence on December 18, 2015, but it was never acknowledged. The letter urges the hospital to save the historic Prouty Garden, which is currently slated for demolition. Completed by landscape architects Shurcliff & Merrill following the initial designs of Olmsted Brothers, the garden opened in 1956, in a time before research had confirmed the restorative powers of gardens. Although the garden has been cited as an exemplar of healthcare-garden design, the hospital announced plans in 2012 to demolish it in order to expand its facilities.                   

Dear Mr. Karp:

I have been honored and privileged to be a physician at Boston Children’s Hospital for a quarter of a century, my entire medical career. I count myself fortunate to work elbow to elbow with the best clinicians, researchers, and staff in the world.

But what makes Children’s special is not just the breakthrough discoveries we have made or the innovations we have developed. It’s the ethic of caring about and addressing the needs of our patients beyond the mere clinical treatment of their illnesses or injuries that, over time, has come to define the soul of this hospital. We touch the young lives of the children and families we serve, not with our technical skill, but with our compassion, a smile from a man pushing a broom, a nurse’s hand to hold, a moment shared with a busy doctor. There is no greater physical affirmation of that commitment than the Prouty Garden. Many pediatric hospitals have cutting-edge technology, only we have this healing natural space.

Two decades ago, I sat with an 11-year-old patient of mine, a boy who realized that he was dying from a cancer that even back then we could cure in 95 percent of our patients. With a courage and grace that only youth can muster, he was struggling with how difficult this was for his mother. He asked me to get him out of his hospital room. When I wheeled him outside, he could feel the fresh breeze and hear the birds in the trees of the Prouty Garden. After a long silence, I tried to apologize to him for our failure — the best knowledge, skill, and technology in the world could not save him. Looking up through the branches into the sky, he said, “You can’t always cure, but you can always heal.”

Like others before and after him, Nick was comforted by the peace, the unpredictability, and the implacability of nature, nature that both calmed him and took him out of this world. Our garden is a small piece of nature, nature that cannot be simulated by artificial green spaces. Many of our patients drew some of their last breaths in our garden and many more drew the first breaths of the rest of their lives there. Our garden has comforted frightened children, consoled grieving parents, and restored depleted caregivers.

The decision to destroy this garden as the most cost-effective way to expand our facilities is shortsighted and false economy. Children’s is about preserving life.  Killing our garden is cutting out our core, thinking that we can build something better. Once the Prouty Garden is gone, it is lost forever, taking with it the memories and meaning of many lives lost and saved at Children’s.

The heart of Children’s is the people, including myself, who toil here, not for the billings we can generate, the technology we can operate, or even the medical prowess we can demonstrate– but for the young bodies and spirits we serve. The soul of Children’s is healing, healing made physical in the Prouty Garden, healing that no technology or human skill can provide.

As John Muir reminded us during the rapid commercial expansion of the early 20th Century, "Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”

Healing is our product, what we provide day and night at Children’s. To destroy this piece of nature at our core would not only erase the memories and meaning of so many who have gone before, it would remove our healing soul for the future. For the sake of the children and all of us who serve them, please find an alternative facility plan – one that does not sacrifice the Prouty Garden and that saves the soul of Boston Children’s Hospital.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Michael Rich

How You Can Help

If you are moved by Dr. Rich's letter, please contact the following individuals and ask them to work to save the Prouty Garden: 

Mr. Brian P. Golden, Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority
1 City Hall, Ninth Floor
Boston, Massachusetts 02201

Ms. Sonal Gandhi, Senior Policy Advisor at the Boston Redevelopment Authority
1 City Hall, Ninth Floor
Boston, Massachusetts 02201

The Honorable Martin J. Walsh, Mayor of Boston
1 City Hall Square, Suite 500
Boston, MA 02201-2013

The Honorable Gloria L. Fox, Massachusetts House of Representatives
Room 167, 24 Beacon St
Boston, MA 02108

The Honorable Maura Healey, Attorney General of Massachusetts
1 Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108-1518

The Prouty Garden at Boston Children's Hospital
The Prouty Garden at Boston Children's Hospital - Photo courtesy Clare Cooper-Marcus