and — longtime supporters of Children's Hospital Los Angeles — have committed $2.3 million in new funding to be used for the purchase of a da Vinci robot for the hospital's division of pediatric urology in the department of surgery.
Portions of the substantial financial gift will also support the training of physicians in the use of the surgical robot, which will be used on children as young as 4 months old to help correct urologic problems. CHLA's Robotic Program was launched in 2009, making it the first of its kind on the West Coast. To date, more than 400 successful surgeries have been performed, according to the hospital.
In an exclusive interview with , Kirk said the "bottom line is that it's a great help for children." "With this new machine, we will be one of the only hospitals on the West Coast to help children in this way," he said, referring to the surgeries aided by the da Vinci robot, which enables surgeons to operate with enhanced vision, precision, dexterity and control. "Before, there were areas that needed to be reached during an operation that they couldn't get to."
"This single piece of equipment will create more hope and better treatment outcomes for thousands of children suffering from a variety of issues that can be improved surgically," said , FACHE, president and CEO of CHLA. Added , M.D. and chief of the division of urology: "It allows for smaller incisions, precise levels of accuracy and magnified high-resolution 3D images of the surgical field. It is an incredible gift."
And one that continues the couple's decades-long tradition of philanthropic endeavors. The duo started The Douglas Foundation in 1964 and over the years their charitable activities have included the rebuilding of more than 400 playgrounds at Los Angeles elementary schools, the Anne Douglas Center for homeless women at the Los Angeles Mission, and the Harry's Haven Alzheimer's unit at the Motion Picture & Television Fund's retirement home, among many others.
In July 2012, Kirk, 98, and Anne, 84, to further support the causes they are most passionate about, giving made possible by the high-profile auctions of their extensive art collection. More recently, Kirk backed the Kirk Douglas Fellowship at the AFI Conservatory, new in 2015.
The couple sat down with at their modest Beverly Hills home on March 25 to discuss the CHLA donation and why they're so passionate about the health and welfare of children. They also shared some laughs about why Kirk no longer enjoys slides, which he lovingly blames on his wife of more than 60 years — proof that they both are still going strong.
I think it will help infants of 3 and 4 months, even. This is all, for me, outer space. I don’t understand how it works. But if it’s that important and they need it so badly and they have wanted it for awhile, so be it.
This is the first time we are gifting a complicated machine. We don’t know how robotic surgery works, but we know that they need it for children. This is the first time we’ve given a machine that we don’t know what it does, but the doctors are pleased with it. We’re giving something that is very useful, and that feels good.
Why did you decide to gift this particular piece of equipment?
Anne: Because we have done a lot for the children of Los Angeles - it's been one of our interests, among others. For eacmple, I read in the Los Angeles Times 15 years ago or more how the playgrounds for children at elementary schools were in poor codition with accidents all the time, and so therefore, they closed the playgrounds and kept the children inside or on the steps. It bothered me. At the time, Mayor Riordan [was in office] and I called him and he said to come over. The next morning at 8 a.m., I brought a girlfriend of mine and by 8:40 a.m. we had $2.5 million from people we called. We started to refurbish nearly all the elementary schools in the L.A. school district.
Kirk: One thing that annoyed me is that when we attended the inauguration of every playground, my creative wife said it would be very nice if Kirk Douglas would go down the sllide. I tell you, I did that for about 9 years, and I said, "Honey, please finish this project because I can't go down any more slides." Fortunately, she finished and I don't go down a slide any ore. (Anne laughs.)
If the funds are not running out of the foundation, we will do what we can to support various important necessary things that we are interested in and that are needed. That might be the Children’s Hospital, it might be something else. But we will continue to donate where we think it is needed as long as the money doesn’t run out.
I started my interest in helping other people because I worked my way through college. Years ago, the first thing that I established was a scholarship for black students because when I was in college, I saw no black students. For years, I have supported a scholarship. We try, in a small way, to help other causes, and Anne helps take women off the street. We have a nice building and nice programs. Anne is fantastic with people who have nothing.
I’m proud of everything that we do to help. I'm proud of what Anne does with the women. I’m proud of the children who are playing on rubberized surfaces and modern equipment. I'm proud of the letters from the students who tell me that they marvel at the scholarships. I don’t know how to pick out one. I’m so proud of everything.