Dr. Jeff Sperring, CEO of Seattle Children's. Photo courtesy of Seattle Children's
Dr. Jeff Sperring hopes your kid never has to come to his office.
“I’m most pleased [in my work] when parents tell me, ‘We’ve never had to go to Seattle Children’s, but we’re really glad that we saw this article and learned something about our kids’ health,’” says Dr. Sperring, CEO of Seattle Children’s. “That’s when I feel like we’re really making the impact that we’re supposed to.”
We spoke with Dr. Sperring about that outreach, his hopes for the future and what makes Seattle a special place for kids.
What’s the CEO of a hospital do?
I describe it as being the no. 1 fan of the most amazing 8,000 team members I could ever work for. We’re all committed to making the lives of kids better.
For us, our role [is to focus on] how to help all kids stay healthy. That includes the more traditional things: If kids are sick, we have an amazing hospital and amazing specialty clinics where they can come to find hope and great care. But our research institute is also constantly working on new cures for diseases. ... We also have great researchers looking into activity levels and food choices [and] mental health [and] screen time and media consumption.
What’s some recent Seattle Children’s research that you’re particularly excited about?
We’re a global leader in what’s called pediatric immunotherapy, which is basically adjusting a child’s own immune system to fight off cancer just like it would a virus or bacteria.
The first trial we published [in 2017] featured 43 kids with leukemia — 43 kids who didn’t have any other options left. We were able to get 93 percent of them into remission. It’s the most successful trial anyone has done.
Unfortunately, of that 93 percent, 50 percent relapsed again after the first round of immunotherapy [within one year]. What we’ve learned from that is that we need to adjust our trials. We’re about to open two new trials that will take our research to a whole new level [and] we’re really excited about their possibility. [Editor’s note: Seattle Children’s has since launched new immunotherapy trials related to this research; the newest trial is the first chimeric antigen receptor T-cell immunotherapy trial in the U.S. for children and young adults that launches a bilateral attack on cancer cells.]
Do you think there’s anything unique about Seattle that fosters this type of research?
There’s this willingness to pioneer and to take a little bit of a chance to do the right thing. … That combination is what allows us to help kids get better faster.
I also think this is the most generous community for kids. I’ve been blown away in my two and a half years here at the community’s commitment to step up, including for our new $1 billion initiative, It Starts With Yes: The Campaign for Seattle Children’s. It really gets to the heart of our team and our community saying “yes” to kids and stepping up to do the right thing.
What else is new at Seattle Children’s?
We are constantly growing to meet the needs for our kids and families, wherever they are. … We’ve added services in Bellevue, opened a clinic in Federal Way and [in 2018] we’ll have a brand-new center [in Everett] for all our families up north, so they have services closer to home and don’t have to always fight the Seattle traffic. We’re continuing to look for where the needs for kids and families are and how can we continue to grow to meet those needs.
You live in Ballard and have a daughter who’s a nurse at Swedish. How does being a father impact your work at a children’s hospital?
I tell everyone: Being the CEO of such a large organization is a team sport. My wife and I are a two-person team who take on this role together. We work hard, but when we get time to relax, there’s no better place to do that than in the Pacific Northwest.