by Douglas Walter
In March of 1971, a group of surgeons at St. Lukes’s hospital began a two-year pilot project to convert a surgical suite into what is known as a "cleanroom," a special operating environment with a low level of environmental pollutants that reduces post-operation infections.
The pilot project proved a success, allowing the surgeons to enter into an interesting partnership with NASA to build the state of the art Laminar Flow Cleanroom, complete with helmets and astronaut style suits, which was most typical to manufacturing environments then.
Martin Marietta Corporation provided the blue prints and NASA provided funding for the cleanroom. The result was a post-operating infections reducing from 9 percent to below 1 percent, according to George Abbott, a spokesman for Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center.
As Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center looks back on 125 years of existence in Denver, the cleanroom project marked just one example of the hospital’s role in the community to pursue cutting-edge technology, helping define "modern healthcare" for a community hospital.
"As we celebrate our 125 years of service, we hope our colleagues in the medical community, as well as in the community at large, learn more about how Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center came to be the region’s leading hospital," said Jill Taylor, chief nursing officer at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s.
Taylor said the more people who learn about the history of the medical center, the more they will be amazed by how truly groundbreaking the care has been.
St. Luke’s Hospital admitted its first patient in 1881 in a former hotel by Colorado Episcopal Bishop John Franklin Spalding, his wife, and the Cathedral Ladies Hospital Aid Society.
Ten years later the hospital had a new home at 19th Avenue and Pearl Street in Denver, where it is still located today.
At the end of World War I, the hospital couldn’t meet the swelling population in Denver. This lead the Denver Hospital Agency to raise money in order to purchase land for building Presbyterian Hospital next door.
It was a 135-room state-of-the art facility when it opened in 1926, which included an operating theater with six major and two minor operating rooms, two maternity delivery rooms and the most current physician scrub rooms.
At Presbyterian, the founders set out to run a new kind of community hospital which focused on cutting edge research and care, according to Abbott.
In the 1920s, the hospital introduced state-of-the-art X-ray machines and new radiation treatments for cancer patients.
In 1933, the hospital opened the first cancer clinic in the Rocky Mountain region, and one of the first clinics of its kind throughout the United States dedicated exclusively to cancer treatment, according to Abbott.
St. Luke’s Hospital then broke trail for medical care in the region in 1961 when it opened the region’s first intensive care unit. Presbyterian Hospital then followed suit the same year opening its care unit, which joined with the emergency room as highly specialized arms of the hospital and providing needed life-saving care.
A decade later, while surgeons at St. Lukes were beginning the cleanroom project, Dr. Fred Schoonmaker, head of cardiology at St. Luke’s, helped pioneer the use of helicopters used in the Korean War for emergency transport in the Denver area, according to Abbott. In 1979, the two hospitals were financially combined to become Presbyterian/Denver/St. Luke’s Healthcare Cooperation.
Six years later, a competing company bought the hospitals and began a $30 million project to do renovations to combine the two facilities. This was completed in 1992 with patients from St. Luke’s transferring to the new facility.
Other milestone moments at the facility include the first kidney transplant being performed at St. Lukes in 1985, the first bone marrow transplant taking place at at Presbyterian Hospital in 1991, and robotic surgery came to the region for the first time at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s in 2003.
Presbyterian/St. Luke’s place in history is ever evolving, Taylor said.
"The one constant is our focus on advancing medicine to better serve our patients and their loved ones," she said.