Arnie's legacy: Millions of lives touched through hospitals

Arnold Palmer wanted best of the best for children, mothers

Dr. Gregor Alexander remembers the day he met Arnold Palmer for the first time a little differently than "The King" himself does.

"It was in the early 1980s, probably 1981, and not too many people in the hospital knew the importance of that day," said Dr. Alexander. "But he came, he walked through the neonatal unit, he saw the amazing work we were doing with the babies and the limitations with the facilities."

Alexander said Palmer was accompanied by his late wife, Winnie, invited by a former hospital board member.

"We talked to him about the dream of having a children's hospital and he said we could do better," said Alexander. "It was eight years later that we opened the Arnold Palmer Children's hospital, Sept 10, 1989, Arnold Palmer's 60th birthday. It was a dream come true for all of us."

The last time News 6 spoke with Palmer before death, he recalled the same meeting with Alexander some three decades ago but said he was skeptical and harsh.

"Well you're being kind, because my words were really stronger than that at the time," said Palmer. "I wasn't sure we were going to accomplish anything but I let it be known I thought it was poorly handled. And Frank Hubbard, being a dynamic man and a great friend, said 'Arnie, why don't you do something about it?' I said, 'well what can I do Frank?' 'Well, let us name the hospital the Arnold Palmer Hospital.'"

That's when the partnership between Dr. Alexander, co-founder of the the neonatal unit at Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, began.

"Just the first time I met him I knew there was something different, special, our savior that was going to make our dream possible," said Alexander. "He wanted to be sure his name was going to be associated with the best of the best children's hospital."

It is.

Alexander, whose Alexander Center for Neonatalogy at Winnie Palmer Hospital bears his name, said families, doctors and nurses have come from around the world for Palmer's 2 world-class hospitals - Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, named for his late wife.

Alexander also said Palmer's hospitals are the busiest and biggest children's hospitals in the world.

"We have had babies and children from all over the country and all over the world coming to our facility," said Alexander. "We believe that we are the best of the best and we will continue to be the best of the best."

Donna Todd of St. Cloud was at Winnie Palmer Monday afternoon to visit her 9th grandson. All nine had been born at the same hospital.

"Actually my son said they wouldn't consider having his baby anywhere else after he was born," said Todd. "This is the only way they want to be. There's so much love, and you can feel the warmth."

Luz and Luis Rosales were visiting their newborn nephew. Her triplets had also been born at Winnie Palmer two months premature. Today they are healthy.

"I'm always grateful, always going to be grateful for this hospital and Mr. Palmer," said Luz Rosales. "Grateful that he created this place for moms like me."

Dr. Alexander is a humble, gentle man, his beard thinner and more gray than it was the first time he met Arnold Palmer. He said he's only trying to emulate The King's never-ending humility.

"I just feel very honored that I was a small part of his life and very thankful for his friendship and his support and we're not going to let him down at all," said Alexander.

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