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25 Years of Pioneering Care at Shriners Children's Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute

plaque unveiling

The unveiling of the Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute plaque at Shriners Children's Northern California

Fifty years ago, the Sacramento area experienced a catastrophic aviation tragedy when a vintage airplane taking off from Sacramento Executive Airport crashed into a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor, killing 23 people and leaving dozens of others severely burned. It was horrific.

The accident affirmed the concerns of area firefighters – Sacramento lacked the kind of specialized care needed for those with severe burn injuries.

This tragedy became the springboard for a coordinated response in the Sacramento region. Through the visionary efforts of previous Sacramento Fire Department Capt. Cliff Haskell and Firefighters Local 522, the nonprofit Firefighters Burn Institute (FFBI) was created. The organization’s leaders began working with community leaders and UC Davis Health on developing a comprehensive burn program for the region, located at the Sacramento Medical Center, which soon after became UC Davis Medical Center. A decade later, Shriners Children’s leadership approached UC Davis Health leadership to discuss the possibility of building a new multidisciplinary hospital on their campus. The leadership of UC Davis Health and FFBI both recognized the significant contributions of Shriners Children’s to advancements in acute and reconstructive burn care since the 1960s. They also recognized the transformative impact that Shriners Children’s would have on the region by bringing a world-class burn program to its new hospital in Sacramento.

During the 25 years since Shriners Children’s Northern California opened its doors across the street from UC Davis Health, the hospital has grown to be a preeminent medical and research facility, housing one of the most sought-after burn surgeon fellowship programs in the country. Shriners Children’s provides some of the most advanced care available to burn survivors, and treats children and young adults from our region and from around the world.

Greenhalgh leading meeting

Dr. Greenhalgh discusses a burn case with his multidisciplinary medical team.

A Commitment to Burn Care and Research

I arrived from Shriners Hospitals for Children — Cincinnati in 1997 and was honored with the rare opportunity to launch a burn unit in Sacramento, California, that would work closely with FFBI and UC Davis Health to provide burn services to residents in the greater Northern California region.

Our goal then was to advance burn care, research and education, and change lives every day through innovative pediatric specialty burn care, world-class research and outstanding medical education. Today, I am honored to say we have met that challenge.

The evolution of the burn program has transformed the lives of children with burn injuries in the region, across the country and around the world. Our doctors have harnessed research and experience to make pioneering advancements in burn care, including an improved approach to ongoing support for burn survivors and increased advocacy for burn prevention education – making deep investments in preventing burn injuries in the home, where most preventable burn injuries occur. Our researchers have produced hundreds of publications ranging from molecular biology to prevention techniques, all of which have led to advancements in the field of pediatric burn care.

Providing Compassionate, Pioneering Burn Care

Our team is deeply committed to ensuring each patient benefits from personalized care that involves multidisciplinary teams of medical professionals including:

  • Superb occupational and physical therapists who minimize scarring and contracture.
  • Excellent and dedicated nurses who perform both critical care and wound care.
  • On-site researchers who advance treatment methodology.
  • Prosthetists and orthotists, true craftsmen and women, who create custom-made prosthetics for patients.
  • Child life specialists and social workers who provide physical and emotional support during a child’s recovery.
  • Support staff and volunteers who are focused on a child-centric approach to care.
  • Donors who ensure we can continue offering “The Most Amazing Care Anywhere.”

As the only comprehensive pediatric burn program in the western region of North America, our state-of-the-art hospital is staffed and equipped to provide reconstructive surgeries and restorative surgeries for healed burns, as well as treatments for all levels and types of burn injuries including scarring, smoke inhalation and other complex conditions. While most of our patients come from within 100 miles of our hospital, we commonly treat children with acute burns from Alaska, the four northwestern states of Mexico, Colorado and the Pacific Rim islands.

David Greenhalgh with patient

Chief of Burns David Greenhalgh laughs with patient, Jersey, during a routine appointment.


An Extraordinary Gift

In February 2021, Shriners Children’s Northern California received an extraordinary gift of more than $25 million from Mr. Neil Reitman.

Reitman was born into a close-knit family that included his parents Fanny and Max, and sisters Elaine and Sylvia. He spent his earliest years in Chicago before his family moved to the Los Angeles area. Reitman graduated from Dorsey High in Los Angles in 1948, then sold automobiles and served in the naval reserve. Following his service, Reitman started what would be a very successful career in land development with the help of a $10,000 loan from his parents – all the money they had at the time. He developed multi-family, commercial and hotel properties in Southern California, Sacramento and Washington State.

Reitman was a loving husband, father and grandfather. Desiring to make an enduring difference in improving the communities he loved, Reitman directed his exceptional generosity to benefit our burn program in Sacramento. His philanthropy helps to ensure that children continue to benefit from the finest care for burn injuries, informed and advanced by his generous investment in research. Reitman’s generosity will have a significant influence on sustaining the level of excellence in burn care we provide and the influence of our research on burn care practices worldwide. This year, we named our burn program the Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute in his honor.

Celebrating Milestones and a Promising Future

I am profoundly humbled as we mark the 25th anniversary of Shriners Children’s Northern California’s Neil Reitman Pediatric Burn Institute, the 100th anniversary of the founding of our Shriners Children’s hospital system and 150th anniversary of the Shriners International Fraternity.

All of us who work in the burn program are excited for what the future holds. My team and I look forward to continued opportunities to bring hope, healing, compassion and expertise together to improve the lives of our patients. As the need for our specialized services continues to grow, so does our commitment to advancing research, treatment and care for children and their families, whether it is close to home or around the world.

About David Greenalgh, M.D.

David G. Greenhalgh, M.D., is the chief of the division of burn surgery at Shriners Children’s Northern California, a position he has held since its creation in 1997, where he manages all aspects of major and minor burn care, from the initial resuscitation to reconstructive surgery. His world-renowned research focuses on understanding the response to injury and how care teams can manage that response to improve patient outcomes. Dr. Greenhalgh recently retired after 25 years from his dual role as Chief, Division of Burn Surgery, at UC Davis Health.

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