My first plastic surgeon was Dr. Hulnick at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. I had 5 surgeries with him, the first when I was barely 3 months old and the last when I was 6. I don’t remember what he looked like, but I do remember him being a big part of my early life. I was just shy of 9 years old when he died. My mom wept and wondered out loud what were we going we do? I had no idea at the time – in fact, I have only recently realized – just what amazing work Dr. Hulnick did. I am grateful that he was my doctor and did such beautiful work on my lip and palate repairs.
While doing research for this blog, I came across his obituary, which I’ve posted below. My heart swells to read about what a kind and caring man he was, and I know I was fortunate to have him work on me.
By Henry Goldman, Inquirer Staff Writer
June 16, 1989
Stuart J. Hulnick, 50, director and founder of the Burn Center of St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and chief of its plastic-surgery section, died of leukemia Wednesday at his home in Lafayette Hill.
A pediatric burn-care specialist and plastic surgeon, Dr. Hulnick became nationally known for his writings on reconstructive microsurgery, burn care and treatment of children born with cleft palates.
Among his colleagues in Philadelphia, he developed a reputation as a tireless surgeon who worked long hours because of his commitment to caring for suffering children.
“He could have made a fortune as a cosmetic surgeon, but went ahead and did burns, the most difficult work,” said Myles G. Turtz, chief executive officer of the corporation that owns St. Christopher’s.
Dr. Hulnick’s friends remembered him as a man who enjoyed simple pleasures in life and took great pride in his wife and two children.
Born in Staten Island, N.Y., Dr. Hulnick studied American literature at Princeton University before entering the University of Rochester Medical School. He interrupted his medical residency at Strong Memorial Hospital there to serve in the Air Force from 1965 to 1967. He then returned to Rochester, where he was a senior resident and later the chief surgical resident at Genesee Hospital.
He came to Temple University Health Sciences Center in 1970 and spent two years there as a surgical resident before joining the medical staff at St. Christopher’s. In 1978, he became chief of plastic surgery and he founded the burn center – the only such children’s unit between Washington and Boston.
Yesterday, the hospital’s executive director, Calvin Bland, said the burn center would be named after Dr. Hulnick.
For more than a decade he served on St. Christopher’s board of managers and on the board of trustees of the Burn Foundation of the Delaware Valley. He remained in those positions until his death.
A member of the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, Dr. Hulnick taught plastic surgery at Temple University Health Sciences Center and was on the medical staff of Chestnut Hill Hospital.
“I’ve never seen anyone love kids, and love kids who have had the horror and devastation of burns, as Stu Hulnick did,” said William H. Weintraub, who was recruited by Dr. Hulnick more than 10 years ago as the hospital’s chief of surgery.
“He had an unbelievable amount of commitment to children who had suffered the disfigurement of burns. I’m not sure he’s replaceable.”
He was “a straight shooter, a gifted surgeon and a brilliant guy,” said Turtz, who heads the nonprofit corporation that owns St. Christopher’s and two other hospitals.
Burn treatment for children, Turtz said, “is probably the most difficult job you can do, requiring extraordinary care and technique and constant attention.”
“He was a tremendous amount of fun, and he also had the capacity to be very silly,” said Diane Williams, who is director of nursing at Valley Forge Medical Center and a longtime friend of the Hulnick family.
Noting that a memorial service has been scheduled for a dining room at St. Christopher’s, Williams said, “He loved food and he disliked pretension, so it’s appropriate that a memorial service be held for him in the hospital cafeteria. He would love that.”
In addition to his work with burn victims, Dr. Hulnick ran a unit for children who had been born with cleft lips and palates. The clinic was staffed with oral surgeons and speech therapists.
Dr. Hulnick’s third major involvement was as a plastic surgeon for children who were trauma victims. St. Christopher’s has the largest trauma unit for children in the region.
“The kids would start out disfigured and end up beautiful by the time he was finished,” said Weintraub.
Dr. Hulnick excelled in his hobbies as well – needlepoint, gardening, cooking, making furniture by hand, and listening to classical music and opera.
Survivors include his wife, Virginia Cole Hulnick; two children, Lauren and Adam; a brother, and his mother, Martha.
Friends and family may attend a memorial service at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the cafeteria of St. Christopher Hospital’s Morris Pavilion, 2600 N. Lawrence St. Interment will be private.