Coalition Steering Committee Member Dr. David Fenner Featured in Journal: Doctor Puts Kids First

Below is an article from the Poughkeepsie Journal.  Dr. Fenner has been a long time supporter of the work of the Community Coalition for Rhinebeck Youth and we are very fortunate to count him among our steering committee members.  He has spoken to children in teens in the middle and high schools and has been a featured speaker at several of our parent forums.  We have a NPR radio clip and a forum video clip on our web site.

Devoted pediatrician gives rich, poor children the same care

2:01 PM, Jul 15, 2012   |

Dr. David Fenner is a pediatrician at Children’s Medical Group in Rhinebeck. / Karl Rabe/Poughkeepsie Journal

Written by Lauren Yanks - For Poughkeepsie Journal

With a warm smile and compassionate demeanor, it is easy to see why David Fenner is one of the Hudson Valley’s most popular pediatricians. Born on Long Island in 1953, Fenner’s own childhood was filled with challenges and upheavals.

“My father fought in World War II and saw awful stuff,” Fenner said. “He came home and decided to save the world. He became a congregational minister and was very involved in the civil rights movement. He spent his 40th birthday at the civil rights march listening to King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.”

As is frequently the case with ministers, Fenner’s father made little money, and the family moved a lot. In addition, his mother suffered from an extreme form of bipolar disorder before being diagnosed with cancer when Fenner was 12.

“I took care of my mom’s medicines and watched her for seizures,” he said. “She died when I was in eighth grade. It was a slow, miserable, painful year of dying.”Working to help the family make ends meet, Fenner paid little attention in high school and did not do well. However, his natural intelligence helped him ace the SATs, especially the math portion, and he was accepted to SUNY Plattsburgh. He met his wife, Joni, as a freshman, and they married in their early 20s.

“Our first date was a sit-in at the federal building in Plattsburgh protesting Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia,” Fenner said. “We’ve been married now for 37 and a half years.”Fenner says his proudest achievement by far is his two kids, who are now 29 and 32.“My daughter is a teacher, and my son works for a newspaper,” he said. “But more than their career success, it is the quality of their characters I am so proud of. My son is about to be a father for the first time, and we are so excited to become grandparents.”

After finishing college, Fenner went on to Einstein Medical School and later got a residency in pediatrics at Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx. In 1985, he moved to Poughkeepsie and began his practice. As one of the senior pediatricians of the Children’s Medical Group, Fenner is especially proud of their commitment to every child’s well-being.

“We have always held as a priority that we are going to take care of all of the kids in our community,” he said. “We have always taken care of the richest and the poorest kids in town, side by side, in the same way. We do not feel that there should be two classes of medical care for children depending on how well your parents’ insurance pays.”

In fact, the Children’s Medical Group is one of the few practices that has always accepted Medicaid.“It does not pay much, but we feel it’s our responsibility,” Fenner said. “One thing I have come to know is that all kids are born the same. We are not going to be the first ones to tell an infant that he is to be treated differently because of the circumstances of his birth or his family. He will be told that plenty of times down the road.”

Concerned with the lifestyle of many children today, Fenner makes sure to speak to his patients about healthy choices. He also lectures at various places, emphasizing the importance of natural living.

“I ask people to imagine that we’re humans in the wild,” he said. “In the wild, what do we need to grow and be healthy? We do not need processed food, but food as it presents itself in nature. I am a big breast-feeding advocate as well.”

Fenner also talks about the importance of exercise, as well as getting a good night’s sleep.“Good aerobic exercise can help children in so many ways,” he said. “Many children today suffer from depression and anxiety, and more exercise can help tremendously. Sleep deprivation is another huge problem for our teenagers. We need to educate our kids instead of blaming them; it’s the adults who’ve created the culture.”

A few years ago, Fenner decided to spread his care and expertise even further. Interested in working with kids throughout the world, he began to travel on medical missions with Healing the Children Northeast, a nonprofit organization that helps needy children obtain medical care. He has gone on nine missions in four years to countries such as Colombia and Thailand. Most of the trips have been surgical missions for children born with cleft lips with palates, and he recently went on a burn mission.

“These missions are just a bunch of local people —doctors, nurses, techs and other volunteers — who gather up equipment and supplies from local sources and carry them to parts of the world to help children,” he said. “We pay our own way and travel on our vacation time.”

Fenner highlights the community effort involved with the missions.“We don’t have big corporate donors — we are supported fully by the community,” he said. “Anyone can pitch in and help. Even kids can help by sending little things like a stuffed animal. I will put that stuffed animal in the hands of a sick child, and I guarantee that we will make him or her smile.”

While on the missions, Fenner examines each child and helps monitor children before and after their surgeries. But more than that, he is the human face between the children, the families and the surgeons.

“I love getting to know the children and their families,” he said. “Kids are kids no matter where you are. Some of them are just born a lot luckier than others.”A plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Poughkeepsie, Manoj Abraham has led numerous surgical missions with Healing the Children. He approached Fenner a few years back when looking for a pediatrician to accompany a mission to Colombia.

“I spoke with Dave, and he was very excited to go,” Abraham said. “I think he’s been on every single mission I’ve done since. He’s gotten bitten by the bug.”Abraham is especially grateful for the relationships Fenner develops.“As a surgeon, I only get to hang out with patients on screening day, but for the rest of the week, I’m stuck in the operating room,” Abraham said. “I rely on Dave so much on these missions. He keeps me connected with the patients and their families. He is such a caring person. It’s a crucial role that he fills in an extraordinary way.”

Back at home, Pleasant Valley resident Erin Holder feels very lucky to have Fenner as her children’s doctor.“I honestly don’t know where to begin,” she said. “He’s one of the greatest human beings across the board. All the families that see him adore him. He’s a totally fantastic person.”

As a mom of a 4-year-old son with health issues, Holder is immensely grateful for the peace of mind Fenner provides.“Dr. Fenner has been such an unbelievable support to me above and beyond what a doctor should do,” she said. “I completely trust his knowledge and talent.

So many doctors just rush you through, but he really cares and spends hours helping my son. I feel like he truly loves my son. And he also doesn’t have any airs about him. He’s a real human being with an immense amount of knowledge and compassion. I can’t say enough wonderful things about him.”

As a man with a busy practice who happens to be the chairman of pediatrics at Vassar Brothers Medical Center, travels on medical missions and takes cello lessons, you’d think Fenner would have his plate full. But as a devoted advocate of environmental issues, he is also on the board of Hudson Valley Sloop Clearwater, which stresses environmental education for youth and works to create the next generation of environmental leaders.

“Getting kids away from the computers and getting them outdoors is one of the biggest health challenges we face, and nobody does that better than Clearwater,” he said. “Teaching respect for the health of the environment goes hand-in-hand with teaching respect for a child’s own health. I encourage all families to join and get their kids involved in protecting our local environment.”

Overall, Fenner feels grateful for all the challenges of his early life and believes it’s helped him become a more capable doctor, as well as a more sensitive and well-rounded person.“I feel that social responsibility should actually be part of our lifestyle,” he said. “It is really how we approach other people in our daily lives. For me as a pediatrician, it is how I help each child individually in my office, whether it is trying to deal compassionately with an ill child or helping to raise healthy kids in an unhealthy environment. We all need to take care of each other, which is something that has been lost in the modern world. We must always remember that we are our brothers’ keepers.

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