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JFK Medical Center Celebrates 50th Birthday with First Baby

David DeSantis has always liked to be first. It began with his birth — the first at the just-opened maternity ward at JFK Medical Center — on Jan. 15, 1968.

"I'm very competitive," said DeSantis, who now lives in Marlton. "I like to win. Maybe it all started here."

JFK Medical Center has been celebrating its 50th birthday all year with various events and programs. DeSantis and his family joined in on the celebrations Monday.

In 1961, then-township Mayor Anthony Yelencsics recognized the need for a community hospital to provide high-quality, accessible care and create good jobs. On Aug. 7, 1967, JFK Medical Center opened at 65 James St. There were 206 beds and the maternity ward had 18 semi-private rooms, four labor rooms and four delivery rooms.

"It was a small, little community hospital with about 450 full-time employees," said Raymond Fredericks, president and CEO of JFK Health.

JFK Medical Center is now one of state's most comprehensive facilities, having transformed from a small community hospital to an award-winning and nationally recognized expert in neuroscience and rehabilitation. And they still deliver plenty of babies.

"Now 50 years later, we have 499 beds, over 5,000 employees. We have over 1,000 members on the medical staff," Fredericks said. "And the reason we are celebrating David today is that we believe in maternal and child health. That is the cornerstone of a community hospital."

On Monday, DeSantis, his parents, Bob and Andrea DeSantis, and his fiancee, Kelly West, helped the hospital mark its 2017 Excellence Award for Women's Care Labor and Delivery from Healthgrades. Previously, the hospital has been awarded 5-star Excellence Awards for C-Section Delivery, Vaginal Delivery and Hysterectomy.

Also on hand were Praful Raja, JFK Medical Center chairman of the board, and the newly retired Dr. Lawrence Seitzman, who helped deliver David DeSantis nearly 50 years ago.

"We commend JFK Medical Center for achieving them through its commitment to its core values," said Alicia Carroll, associate director for Quality Solutions, who presented the award to Dr. Wayne Steinbeck, chairman of the Department of ObGyn, and Pamela Christy, director of Patient Care for Rehabilitation, Hospice and Maternal and Child Health.

"We believe it is the application of your (JFK's) core values and quality principles that drove to this success. Your commitment to excellence in providing quality and compassionate healthcare services to your diverse communities is exemplified in these awards."

Healthgrades evaluates more than 4,500 hospitals each year and rates hospital performance in terms of clinical outcomes, believing that mortality and complication rates are the most fundamental, relevant and objective measures of quality and the metrics that are the most important to patients.

"Today's award is a culmination of those previous awards," Carroll said. "Recent analysis identified hospitals that have demonstrated superior performance in Women’s Care. JFK has achieved the Healthgrades designation for the 2017 Labor and Delivery Excellence Award, which names the hospital among the top 10 percent of hospitals evaluated for labor and delivery in 2017.

It was not part of the delivery plan for DeSantis to be born at JFK. The young couple, then both 21, thought their first-born would be delivered at Perth Amboy General Hospital. But, two weeks before her due date, Andrea's water broke. Her obstetrician, Dr. Paul Decker, sent her to JFK.

"They had just opened the maternity ward that morning," Bob DeSantis said. "We lived in Metuchen Manor apartments at the time and JFK was a lot closer, just up the road."

Three hours later, David Andrew DeSantis arrived at 3:13 p.m. weighing 7 pounds, 6½ ounces and was 20 inches long.

Though it was her first delivery, Andrea DeSantis was pleased with the experience at JFK. A commemorative plaque marking her son's birth was a gift from the hospital and is kept in their bedroom to this day.

"They did very well," she said with a smile. "Treated me very well. There were even flowers on the dinner table. I remember that."

The family was honored to be invited to the 50th birthday celebration. Fortunately, the elder DeSantises, who now live in Gilbert, Arizona, were in town to mark Andrea's brother's 60th birthday.

All agree that the invitation was a "nice surprise."

"This was a little overwhelming," David DeSantis said. "I appreciate the invite to come and celebrate this special occasion with everybody. I don't recognize any of you and the the hospital I don't recognize. I understand it has gone through some changes in the last 50 years. I'll see you in another 50 years."

"Care for the community" was one of the prime reasons JFK was founded and officials said that continues to be the focus. In 2018, JFK will join Hackensack Meridian Health.

"JFK will continue to grow, continue to expand and continue to serve this wonderful diverse community that we find ourselves located in," Fredericks said.