Dr. Burt Grebin, who revolutionized palliative care for sick children as the leader of St. Mary's Healthcare System for Children, died Sunday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital in New York after suffering a heart attack. He was 68 and lived in Port Washington.
During his 36-year tenure, Grebin helped shape the children's hospital in eastern Queens into a national leader as it launched the country's first pediatric palliative care program, the state's first long-term home health care program for children, the state's first home care program for children with HIV/AIDS, and the city's first certified traumatic brain injury and coma recovery program.
"He really re-imagined the way children should be treated in this country," said Lee Perlman, executive vice president of the Greater New York Hospital Association.
"Hospitals didn't have a way of dealing with kids that were terminal, Perlman said. "Burt really created a compassionate structure," Perlman said.
Grebin grew up in Kew Gardens and North Bellmore, and attended Adelphi University in Garden City on a scholarship to study Spanish before switching to a pre-med major, according to his fraternal twin sons Jason and Perry Grebin.
He attended New York Medical College and did his residency at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. In 1975, Dr. Grebin joined St. Mary's as medical director and was appointed executive director in 1982 and president and chief executive in 1991.
Grebin was a loving father who never boasted about his prominent role in advocating for children's health care, his sons said.
"He was a regular dad. He made breakfast for us every morning," said Jason Grebin, 42, a real estate lawyer from Short Hills, N.J. "He never tooted his own horn. He would talk about the success of the hospital but never about what he did to contribute."
Growing up with a doctor father meant "there was always a Petri dish or two in the fridge," said Perry Grebin, 42, a filmmaker from Brooklyn.
There were times when Grebin brought patients home for the holidays, including two boys who had severely underformed limbs, Jason Grebin said. "He brought them home not as patients but as visitors," he said.
In addition to his sons, Grebin is survived by his daughter-in-law Lorie; granddaughters Lucy, Zoë, and Millie; his nephew Scott Cholewa; and his partner, Susan Gold.