Three generations of pediatricians in the Blum family share a passion for treating young patients.
Photography by Rudy Thomas
Pediatrician George Blum, M.D., of Bloomfield Township began practicing medicine in 1960. It was a time when he was regularly treating children with measles, mumps, polio, meningitis, severe pneumonia, jaundice, tuberculosis and diphtheria — many conditions that today are preventable by vaccination.
He also treated children with enlarged heads due to hydrocephalus (also known as water on the brain). Doctors didn’t yet have shunts at their disposal for the condition. Blum said he also made many house calls.
“I thought house calls were fun,” he said. “I would sometimes get paid with cake.”
He would typically pack up his five kids in the family van and take them along for calls. His son Robert was in tow; and from kindergarten until age 10, he would observe his father interacting with parents and children.
“I remember many of those house calls,” said Robert, who trained to be a pediatrician like his father. “I remember that at the dinner table Dad would take a million calls. He just taught us how to be doctors.”
George, now 88, not only taught Robert, a Beverly Hills resident, how to cultivate good bedside manners, but also how to put children and their parents at ease.
He taught us “dumb little jokes that make kids laugh,” said Robert, 58, who began practicing pediatric medicine as a doctor of osteopathy in 1994, after graduating from Des Moines University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Iowa.
And now, fast forward to the present, and the Blum family has produced a third pediatrician with Robert’s daughter Natalie, 30, joining Southfield Pediatrics (in Bingham Farms and Novi) at the beginning of August. The Royal Oak resident graduated from Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in May 2016. She has three siblings, Madeleine, a social worker, and brothers Cameron and Weston, who both work for Disney.
“I tried hard to like something other than pediatrics,” she said. “I just really like kids.”
George Blum said his father arrived in America as a teenager from Hungary to avoid being drafted into the Hungarian Army during World War I. His father worked as a restaurant server and was “very pleased” his son became a medical doctor.
George graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1955, with a class of 206 students, six of whom were women. Currently, U-M’s medical school has more women in the medical school (60.5 percent) than men (39.5 percent), according to George, who has been a member of Michigan’s medical center alumni board, and U-M’s 2019 statistics.
He said he was influenced by his own pediatrician, Dr. Max Kohn, who treated him for scarlet fever when he was 10. He was quarantined for six weeks and his father had to stay in a hotel for the duration of his illness.
“My pediatrician was a very nice man,” George said. “He would make me feel better. I remember how I liked to speak with my doctors who treated me.”
George said he would see Kohn at medical conferences once he became a pediatrician. He also notes that seven of his own childhood patients have become pediatricians.
His relationship with Kohn as a youngster taught him how to talk to children.
“I tried to tell them jokes and ask them about what they were doing,” he said. “Over the years, I still love talking to kids.”
“I never told (Robert) to be a doctor,” George said, adding that Robert had originally contemplated being a stockbroker.
“I always just gravitated to kids,” Robert said. He added that he enjoys children’s energy and their uninhibited honesty and humor.
“Kids are so funny,” Robert said. “They have no filter. They’ll tell you things about their parents that the parents don’t want you to know.”
Natalie said she recalls as a child going on rounds with her father when he was treating patients at Sinai Grace Hospital on Outer Drive in Detroit.
“I got to play with babies so that was fun,” she said.
These days, the Drs. Blum administer many childhood immunizations, a move they highly recommend to parents. They also provided hundreds of vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella during the recent measles outbreak in Oakland County.
Robert said he sees kids with autism, meningitis and many cases of epiglottitis (a potentially life-threatening condition that causes swelling of the cartilage that covers the windpipe and can potentially block air from the lungs). Numerous conditions his father treated just don’t exist anymore, Robert noted.
“There are some diseases that have just disappeared,” he said. “We’re vaccinating ourselves out of business.”
However, there are conditions he, his father and daughter continue to treat. They see children on the autistic spectrum, which isn’t new but was formerly termed “mental retardation” (now described as an “intellectual disability”), along with behavioral-based problems like anxiety, depression and sleep deprivation.
“I think kids don’t have enough time to just relax and play,” Robert said. “Unorganized activity doesn’t really exist anymore.”
Patient medical knowledge has also changed with the internet. Though medical conditions and attendant symptoms are searchable online, Robert and George say their clients still rely on their expertise.
“It’s interesting that a lot of people get information off the internet, but they still ask me questions,” George said.
“They just trust us,” Robert said.
Natalie, while serving a residency at St. John’s Hospital on Moross in Detroit, said she saw children who experienced seizures, lots of premature babies because mothers did not receive prenatal care and non-accidental childhood injuries. She also has spent six weeks treating children at a hospital in Malawi and has taken three medical mission trips to South America with her father. While there, the whole team of doctors visited schools and treated between 1,800 and 2,500 children a day.
She added that though her father and grandfather are pediatricians and taught her bedside manners, medical terminology and transcribing notes into a patient’s medical chart, medical school was still challenging.
“It’s a lot to live up to, but it’s really nice to have 60 years of experience and someone I can call on,” she said about her elders in the office. “I learned how to talk to patients way before I became a doctor. The three of us have the same kind of sense of humor.”
Today, George and Robert Blum say they still enjoy the practice of pediatrics, even though George is nearing 60 years in the business and Robert, 25 years. George, a member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek, said he not only still loves interacting with children, he also relishes the challenge of making an accurate medical diagnosis, and loves reading medical journals. He mentioned that some of his former patients are now grandparents bringing their grandkids in for care.
“It’s important that I stay up to date and that I teach medical school students,” George said. “Our family believes in doing what we can to the best of our ability.”
Robert, who is married to Tracye and a member of Adat Shalom Synagogue, said he feels he has made the right career choice.
“Twenty-five years in, I like being a pediatrician more than when I started,” he said.
Natalie, also a member of Adat Shalom, said she has her own path to forge as a young pediatrician.
“My goal is to make healthier kids,” she said so that they can enjoy school. She enjoys watching the children she treats grow as well as working with families.
Joyce Blum, George’s wife, said she is incredibly proud her family contains three generations of pediatric doctors.
“It’s hard to express the pride I feel knowing the three of them want to make a difference and help people,” she said. “To this day, we will run into people who say, ‘Dr. Blum, do you remember when you made that house call and I had a cake coming out of the oven and I gave it to you?’ I really felt like I knew all these people and they would talk to me about their difficulties.”
As for George, is retirement in the cards?
“No,” he said. “Not until they tell me (to retire). Fortunately, I have a good memory and pretty good health. I work full time. I can’t picture myself sitting at home, watching stupid television shows.”