Securing the Hospital's Future
By Jeff Weinstock
Jack Pettker, former co-Chair of CHLA’s Board of Trustees, and his wife, Vickie, recently extended their contributions with a generous planned gift.
It cannot be said that Jack Pettker, mild, slender and reflective, wears his heart on his sleeve. You’ll have to look lower. It’s on his ankle, in the form of a rainbow-colored tattoo, a rendering of two cupped hands, the former logo of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.
“I got it as a birthday present to myself,” he says, returning his left pant cuff to the neutral position. “I looked for a tattoo place on Sunset in Hollywood. I thought that would be a cool place to go. So I went and had it done—and then I told Vickie.”
Vickie, his wife, wasn’t so enthused. “I thought it was kind of an old person’s way to be hip,” she says.
While the hospital’s logo has since been updated, Jack’s commitment to the institution is as current as ever. Vickie and Jack recently committed to a new generous planned gift, their second, to support CHLA and are members of the Mary Duque Society, which honors donors whose lifetime giving exceeds $1 million.
Vickie and Jack, an estate planning attorney, have been CHLA supporters for more than two decades. From 2006 to 2012, Jack served as co-Chair of the CHLA Board of Trustees and of the Living Proof Campaign.
The most profound achievement during his years co-chairing the Board with Marion Anderson was the construction of the state-of-the-art Marion and John E. Anderson Pavilion. He recalls the day it opened in 2011, awed by the migration of patients from the old hospital building to the new one.
“That was just an amazing experience,” says Jack. “One of the great things about it, the first patient to be moved into the new facility was a patient whose father worked for the contractor that built the new hospital building. His child was the first one.”
Vickie and Jack’s philanthropy at CHLA dates back to 1997, when their son was doing a summer research internship at the hospital. Without any thought of becoming donors, they were led on a tour of the hospital. When they passed through the cancer floor, Jack felt uplifted in what should have been the grimmest of settings.
“Even there you didn’t feel sadness,” he says. “You weren’t taken aback by what you were experiencing. There was a very positive energy. I just felt so inspired.”
Not long afterward, Jack was leading a fundraising group to raise support for CHLA’s cancer care. The hospital tour also marked the start of his ongoing admiration for nurses, to whom he has directed a good portion of his contributions over the years. He has been active with the Institute for Nursing and Interprofessional Research (INIR), serving as its Honorary Chair.
“The doctors know about the heart, they know about the lungs,” he says, “but often you find with critically ill patients the nurses have an understanding of the whole patient, of a patient’s circumstances, and what the parents are going through.”
When he completed his term as co-Chair of CHLA’s Board of Trustees in 2012, the hospital’s nursing staff presented Jack with a statuette of a nurse holding a child. An African healing icon, the sculpture is typically awarded by the DAISY Foundation to nurses for their years of excellence. “I refer to myself as Nurse Jackie,” he says with a grin, alluding to the Showtime series of the same name.
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles was the first institution that Vickie and Jack chose to support through ongoing, dedicated charitable giving. Many years ago, an experience there convinced them that they had chosen wisely. The Pettkers had a daughter born premature in 1970. She died only a day after birth as a result of Hyaline membrane disease, which creates underdeveloped lungs that can’t take in enough air.
As they were being led through The Saban Research Institute, their guide, David Warburton, MD, Director of Developmental Biology and Regenerative Medicine, showed them a tiny lung that had been grown entirely from cells. Jack and Vickie then shared the story of their daughter, and Dr. Warburton revealed to them that he had developed a lifesaving treatment protocol for infants born with Hyaline membrane disease.
“You talk about things that are destined,” Jack says. “It just kind of fit. I’m where I’m supposed to be.”
Today, Jack, now a member of CHLA’s Foundation Board of Trustees, is busy conjuring new modes of serving that haven’t been tried before. At heart, he’s “a boot on the ground,” he says. He wants to be personally involved in improving the lives of CHLA’s patients and families.
“What do we call the people who go in and hold the babies?” he asks. “Cuddlers! I was thinking I would like to be a cuddler. Now I’m thinking, the parents who are in the hospital, they must need errands run for them, whether it’s going and getting them food, or there’s shopping they need to have done, but they don’t have time to do it. Could I just be at the hospital and available to do errands for them?”
Vickie looks over to him. “I hadn’t heard that idea.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice, something like that?” he asks. “My days of leadership are over. In some ways, I think serving like that may be more important.”
To help support Children's Hospital Los Angeles, please visit CHLA.org/Donate.