Passing the Torch: Cook Children’s Pulmonologist to Retire After 41 Years of Practicing Medicine
Nancy Dambro, M.D., knew she wanted to be a physician at the ripe old age of 8. Her keen grasp of science and love for helping others were initial career-choice catalysts, but her mother encouraged the endeavor for its practicality and job security.
As a survivor of the Great Depression, Dr. Dambro’s mom knew doctors were needed in times of economic boom or bust, and she wasn’t about to stand in the way of her daughter’s chosen career path. In those days, a mother encouraging her daughter to pursue the male-dominated field of medicine was a rarity.
“My mom was practical and very reinforcing in her recommendations for my career,” Dr. Dambro said. “In the 1960s, not that many girls had their mothers telling them to go ahead and be a doctor.”
Her mother’s refusal to conform to that norm made all the difference to a little girl with a big dream. After 41 years of practicing medicine, Dr. Dambro will hang up her clinical white coat on Dec. 1.
Born and raised in Reno, Nevada, Dr. Dambro received her undergraduate degree from Occidental College in Los Angeles and completed her medical degree at Tufts University in Boston, Mass. A pediatrics residency, pulmonary fellowship and a short stint on the faculty at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson preceded her move to Fort Worth where she joined the medical staff of Cook Children’s Medical Center in 1987.
Dr. Dambro made her way to Cook Children’s alongside her long-time colleague and friend Jim Cunningham, M.D., chief medical officer at Cook Children’s Health System.
“I first met Dr. Nancy Dambro when we were both pediatric pulmonary fellows at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson,” Dr. Cunningham said. “We quickly became good friends and professional colleagues. A few years later, when I was considering returning to Fort Worth and joining Cook Children’s, I was very fortunate to convince her to join me. And now, 33 years later, I face the rather daunting task of bidding her a professional adieu.”
Their arrival at Cook Children’s was a pivotal turning point for the medical center’s pulmonary specialty. The two of them had to start from scratch setting up policies and departmental procedures. Today, that two-person team now includes six additional physicians and many supporting health-care professionals and employees.
During her tenure at Cook Children’s, Dr. Dambro served as medical director of pulmonology for 20 years, in addition to serving as president of the medical staff. She helped grow the department to include the Cook Children’s Cystic Fibrosis Center and a pediatric sleep center, among many other improvements and additions.
“Under her leadership and dedicated guidance, the pulmonary program has grown to one of the largest and most accomplished programs in the country,” Dr. Cunningham said. “She has been a leader in pediatric pulmonology nationally, a leader within Cook Children’s in many capacities, and a leader in our community. She has been a mentor to countless of our young colleagues and her legacy will continue on through their good works.”
Upon retirement, Dr. Dambro will set her sights on time with her family and fostering her love of gardening, entertaining, reading and travel. She says the time is right for her and those she’s passing the torch to.
“I’ve really had a very happy career,” she said. “I wanted to have a good, long career. I really wanted to work past 65 and to go out of my career when I felt strong. I certainly did not want to, in any way, overstay my welcome. And we have a bunch of young physicians now at Cook Children’s who need to grow in their careers and they need to have space to do that.”
Her advice to those young professionals?
“Probably the first thing is give it your all,” Dr. Dambro said. “Remain committed and don’t hesitate to become involved. The second is practice medicine as it’s meant to be practiced, following the Hippocratic Oath, and do not get involved in pressures from the business.”
Karen Schultz, M.D., is a grateful recipient of Dr. Dambro’s counsel. She began working at Cook Children’s fresh out of her fellowship when Dr. Dambro was the medical director. She said Dr. Dambro helped guide her through those early years of on-the-job education that comes with being a new attending physician. Today, Dr. Schultz holds Dr. Dambro’s former position as medical director of pulmonology and praises her predecessor as a physician, advisor and friend.
“She was a mentor to me from the start,” Dr. Schultz said. “Over the 17 years I’ve been here she has continued to advise and counsel me. When I took over as medical director, for the six months beforehand, she passed on her knowledge to me and continues to help even now. There’s always something I’m learning from her every day.”
Dr. Schultz believes her colleague’s retirement is well deserved.
“I hope that she really enjoys her time because she has worked really hard for a lot of years and impacted physicians, nurses, patients and staff more than anybody could really ever explain to her,” Dr. Schultz said. “This place will not be the same without her.”
Lindsey Marshall, 33, of Fort Worth, cried when she heard the news of her beloved doctor’s retirement.
“We talked about the wonderful things that meant for Dr. Dambro,” Lindsey’s mom, Kim, said about comforting her daughter. “I know they're moving to a new house and she gets to spend more time with her husband, and she won't have to wake up in the middle of the night. You know, all things that relate to why this was good for Dr. Dambro. So she understood.”
Lindsey was born with Down syndrome and multiple heart defects. She developed asthma as a toddler and suffered from multiple bouts of pneumonia. Kim said Dr. Dambro has been a gift, noting her positive, calm and reassuring bedside manner, and gives her credit for Lindsey being alive today.
“As a parent of a sick kid I will tell you Dr. Dambro has always been a bright light,” Kim said. “She's always been positive. Never unpleasant. She's always looking for the positive and that's just a gift. She is one in a million. So, yeah, we adore her. It's a personal loss for our family just because we treasure good medical help so much but, for Dr. Dambro, we truly are thrilled. You know, she's worked so, so hard for so many years. She deserves a wonderful retirement.”
Lindsey is a living testament to Dr. Dambro’s legacy. Today, she is thriving from both a health and developmental standpoint as she participates in a college program where she is learning job and life skills that will help her live more independently.
Petey Hansen, 31, of Winnsboro, Texas, has been a patient of Dr. Dambro’s since shortly after his birth in 1989. Born at 26 weeks, Petey suffered a number of complications due to his prematurity, including bronchopulmonary dysplasia, or chronic lung disease. It’s going to be hard for the Hansen family to say goodbye to Petey’s beloved physician after 31 years of what they describe as devoted care.
“We are going to miss her tremendously,” Janice Hansen, Petey’s mother, said as she choked back tears. “We so appreciate the excellent level of care that she always gave Pete. And the fact that I always felt like she loved Pete and that he meant something to her. She always cared, and we wish her well.”
Petey, an avid sports enthusiast who will win any game of sports trivia, beat the odds on multiple occasions. He survived prematurity when many said he wouldn’t, and he proved doctors wrong when they doubted he’d ever walk on his own due to clubbed feet or ever live without a ventilator or supplemental oxygen. But, through it all, Dr. Dambro was there. Never giving up. Never failing to fight for what was best for her patient. Never abandoning the oath she took as a physician.
“She’s very protective of her patients,” Janice said. “She is very knowledgeable in her field and very caring, and Petey loves Dr. Dambro. He looks forward to going to see her every year at check ups.”
“Words fail to capture all she has done,” added George Hansen, Petey’s father.
Today, Petey is relatively healthy and only needs the occasional breathing treatment when he’s sick with a cold or respiratory virus. All thanks to his fighting spirit and, in large part, Dr. Dambro’s care.
Dr. Dambro is quick to acknowledge her family—husband Mark, also a physician, and daughter, Mary—when she talks about her career. Looking back, she isn’t sure how she managed 60-hour-work weeks while also raising her daughter.
“The other day my daughter told me that she and her boyfriend thought for some time that I lived in an alternate reality where there was more time,” Dr. Dambro said with a chuckle. “My family, my husband and daughter and my parents when they were alive, have been incredibly supportive and reinforcing to me.”
She’s also grateful for the support of her colleagues.
“I work in the greatest department,” she said. “We have very low turnover and everybody is happy to come to work and, I think, when you can say you start your day happy to come to work, that says a lot.”
Her longest running colleague will, perhaps, miss her the most.
“I struggle to contemplate professional life at Cook Children’s without Nancy Dambro,” Dr. Cunningham said. “But I am thankful that she took a leap of faith and moved across the country with me, so many years ago, and that she dedicated her professional life to caring for the children of our region. They are happier and healthier for all of her good works.”
Dr. Nancy Dambro’s imprint on Cook Children’s Medical Center will be everlasting as her fellow physicians and colleagues carry on with the work of the department she helped lay the foundation for so many years ago. Thanks to her, thousands of children can breathe a little easier—now and for generations to come.