Siegfried M. Pueschel died Monday, Sept. 2, just hours after this story was posted. Rest in peace, Sig.
Sig Pueschel has a way of making everyone feel like the most important person in the world. This is especially true for the children he's cared for over his long career as a developmental pediatrician. Pueschel – "Dr. Pueschel" – was honored earlier this month at the annual convention National Down Syndrome Congress convention in Chicago with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Pueschel has a special affinity for people with Down syndrome because his son, Chris, had Down syndrome. Chris died in 1998 at age 33.
One year later, Pueschel, who lives in East Greenwich, wrote this about Chris in The Down Syndrome Newsletter:
"I could tell you many exciting stories about my son, however, I would rather dwell on Chris' legacies and also let you know what I have learned from other children during my professional life, for I had the very privilege of caring for literally hundreds of persons with Down syndrome during the past 30 years. These children taught me about their human qualities, the enormous contributions they can make to society, and their passion for life.
"They also taught me that special children are no different from other children in their needs, only in the manner by which they express them and that they are not different from others in their rights, only the way they learn and use them.
"Moreover, I learned from Chris and from other individuals with Down syndrome that there is a goodness, kindheartedness, humanity, and magic in our children that must be protected and never be betrayed."
Pueschel was born in Germany and graduated from the Medical Academy of Dusseldorf. He came to the North America for pediatric residency training at Children’s Hospital in Boston and the Montreal Children’s Hospital in Quebec, Canada. His medical work initially was in a related field, but the birth of Christian in 1965, had a profound influence on his subsequent career.
In 1975, Pueschel was appointed Director of the Child Development Center at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island. He worked there until retiring in 2012.
As a member of Christ Church, East Greenwich, Pueschel met ABC 6 sports director Ken Bell, who traveled with him on several mission trips.
"We went to Mexico," said Bell. "He set up a clinic and he saw hundreds of people. He wouldn't eat. He didn't want to take a break. He would get medicines and take them down with him…. Sig is a phenomenal person. He loves people and he has such a connection with people with Down syndrome."
Cher Bailey of East Greenwich tells a typical story: "When I had Will in 1990, I didn't know I was going to have a special child. I was only 30. I had never met, nor did I know a single person who had someone with Down syndrome in their family. What a greenhorn! After the initial shock of everything … I slowly creeped into the wonderful world of Down syndrome. This is where I met Dr. Pueschel, when Will was about 3 and needed his heart checked. Dr. Pueschel, with all his wisdom and knowledge and no medical mumbo jumbo, said, 'Just enjoy your life with your son. He will always make you smile.'"
Full disclosure: My own son James has Down syndrome. My husband and I consulted with Dr. Pueschel before James was born. Dr. Pueschel has remained a special friend to all three of us since that time.