Hector Wong, MD 1963-2022

Hector Wong prepared to drive one home during a 2006 softball game at Coney Island benefitting Cincinnati Children's United Way campaign. Wong loved baseball and coaching kids on local teams.

Many colleagues have asked how they can honor Wong. His family has requested that donations be directed to the:

A world-class academic physician scientist, a calming presence, a strong leader and mentor who was devoted to helping kids—these are just a few of the accolades colleagues used to describe Hector Wong, MD, vice chair of the Department of Pediatrics, who passed away unexpectedly the weekend of January 23. He was 58.

Wong worked tirelessly to advance Cincinnati Children’s clinical, research and education missions. He cared for patients and families for more than 25 years, serving as director of the Pediatric Critical Care Medicine Fellowship Program until 2004 and director of the Division of Critical Care Medicine until 2020. His novel and innovative research spanned from basic to translational to clinical with a focus on complications that arise from severe sepsis and septic shock.

As a young division director, Wong grew the critical care program—faculty, fellowship, research and more—to become what is today one of the preeminent academic critical care divisions in the country with a highly sought-after training program and a dedication to excellent clinical care, education, and research.

Among his greatest accomplishments was the mentorship and development of countless faculty and researchers. He took great pride in helping others reach their full potential.

In February 2020, Wong was among the critical care medicine leaders who crafted the Surviving Sepsis Campaign, comprising the first national set of guidelines for treating sepsis in children. The guidelines were presented at the Society for Critical Care Medicine (SCCM) congress and published in Pediatric Critical Care Medicine.

His research is the epitome of Cincinnati Children’s “bedside to bench to bedside” approach. Funded by the NIH, his lab developed a robust database of biological samples and clinical data for children with sepsis that serves as the backbone for hundreds of research studies.

In recent years Wong’s laboratory team created a first-of-its-kind tool to help identify sepsis early on, allowing for aggressive protection strategies. The Pediatric Sepsis Biomarker Risk Model (PERSEVERE-II), draws from biomarkers and clinical data to enable physicians to start medical interventions much earlier and with greater precision.

Over the course of his career, he held multiple active NIH R-level awards, and he published more than 200 peer-reviewed manuscripts.

A Confident Leader

Wong served the medical center as interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics, Chief Medical Officer and director of the Research Foundation after Peggy Hostetter, MD, retired and until Tina Cheng, MD, MPH, arrived in November 2020.

He also led Cincinnati Children’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining a calm and steady hand during a time of uncertainty. He was a source of reliable information for staff and our community, including school administrators from around the region who joined our monthly town halls.

Wong was a deeply committed supporter of our underrepresented minority faculty, advocating for a faculty diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan and championing anti-racism efforts at Cincinnati Children's.

Said Steve Davis, MD, MMM, MS, president and CEO, “Hector was such a cornerstone here. I met him when he was a first-year fellow at Pittsburgh Children’s. He was a larger-than-life figure. He could always be counted on to remain calm and inspire confidence in those around him during any challenging situation. As well as being a superb clinician, he was a brilliant scientist and a role model for physician scientists. He will be sorely missed.”

Added Tina Cheng, MD, MPH, “Hector was an extraordinary, highly respected colleague and physician. He loved Cincinnati Children’s, and we feel his loss deeply. Our heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Beyond the walls of Cincinnati Children’s, Wong had a passion for baseball and for supporting children as a coach. He was always excited about the lessons learned and taught on the field and the opportunity to aid youth in the development of skills they would need to succeed in life.

Wong is survived by his parents, his wife, Sue Poynter, MD, MEd, director of the Pediatric Residency Training Program, and four children.

Colleagues Remember...

Hector was an amazing leader and colleague. While so many know him as a talented and successful scientist, he was also a dedicated pediatrician who still took care of sick kids in the PICU and loved doing so. He led with trust and mutual respect and was a straight shooter. He supported and encouraged our young faculty and fellows unwaveringly—always investing in their success. We’ve lost a foundational pillar of critical care. -- Erika Stalets, MD, MS, interim director, Critical Care, and associate chief of staff, Critical Care Services

Hector respected and embraced difference, was always open to listening to differing points of view and had a gift for leveraging those differences to create learning opportunities for himself and others. He regularly attended Black Faculty and Staff Alliance (BFSA) meetings and always made himself available to discuss and help resolve any challenge that underrepresented minority faculty members may have been experiencing. He was a transformational servant leader and the voice of reason we all needed—especially during challenging situations/times. Although he will be deeply missed, we will always think of him with joy because of the light and positive change he brought to Cincinnati Children’s and this world. Sending an abundance of love, comfort, and strength to his family and everyone else who knew and loved our dear friend as we all process this unimaginable and devastating loss. -- Jamilah Hackworth, EdD, associate director, Office of Academic Affairs and Career Development

Whether at the bedside or the lab bench, Hector always focused on the science behind a problem and the data available instead of biases and hunches. He could rapidly get to the heart of an issue—whether clinical or research—and propose solutions that were aimed at making a child’s life better. He always put the child and their family first and was a great role model for all who had the privilege of working with him at the bedside, the lab, or in the boardroom. I will miss him. -- Tracy Glauser, MD, associate director, Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation

Hector was a dedicated advocate for trainees and junior faculty, generously providing them with the skills and confidence they needed for success in academic careers. He was also a powerful champion for faculty career development, working closely with the Office of Academic Affairs and Career Development team on all aspects of academic affairs, including faculty promotions, mentorship, networking, leadership, and diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. He displayed a remarkable ability to bring division directors together to address challenges and to inspire others to bring their best selves to every discussion. He consistently demonstrated deep humility and exceptional trust and respect for his team and led with empathy, understanding, and encouragement. -- Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH, director, Adolescent and Transition Medicine

I was the charge nurse in the PICU when Hector began his attending career at Cincinnati Children’s. He was due to start on Monday, and in his classic style, he came in to round with me on Sunday evening. He wanted to know everything about our current patients, our fellows, and staff.

The timing was difficult though, which is standard for a day in the PICU.

I was working with a beautiful teenage girl who had met brain death criteria earlier and whose family had chosen to pass on the gift of life. We had done much bereavement activity throughout the day. We coordinated with the Life Center, and the family was saying their final goodbyes in the unit.

They made one more request for footprints, in addition to the handprints we had done, as this beautiful young lady was a dancer.

Hector stepped right in to assist me with making those imprints. It was clumsy and likely not well done (on my behalf), since it was something we usually did with infants but not teenagers.

Hector then helped me transport her to the operating room. We bonded quickly, and I developed a great appreciation for this new attending, who came in a day early and helped me and this family first thing. --Anna Sheets, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, senior director, Employee Health and Occupational Safety

Hector was one among those very rare quadruple threats—a superb clinician-scientist, a compassionate and gifted physician, an incredible teacher, and a great mentor.

I was fortunate to be chosen as a fellow at Cincinnati Children's. Hector was the director of Critical Care Medicine at the time, and I considered myself lucky to join his research laboratory. I learned a lot from him those first several months of fellowship training, both in the laboratory and at the bedside.

There were times when I questioned whether I was the right kind of person to be a pediatric intensivist (we didn't call it imposter syndrome back then, but I had it for sure). Hector was always there to advocate, motivate, inspire, and support. I ended up finishing fellowship training, and I left a better physician and human being because of him.

He eventually recruited me back to Cincinnati, and I spent the next 16 years growing as a physician and leader under his mentorship. No matter what I was doing or where I was, there was always something that I could learn from talking with Hector. --Derek Wheeler, MD, MMM, MBA, Chief Medical Officer, Lurie Children’s Hospital

Dr. Wong was a tremendous collaborator and a strong advocate for the tight bonds between Cincinnal Children’s and the College of Medicine. It has always been a pleasure having him as one of our faculty leaders, especially when he was selected two years ago to serve as interim chair of pediatrics. His impact on the health of children and pediatric medical education will be long-lasting. -- Andrew Filak Jr., MD, senior vice president for health affairs and Christian R. Holmes Professor and Dean

Dr. Wong devoted himself to the scientific pursuit of understanding the complexity of sepsis with a focus on critically ill children. He served the National Institutes of Health on study sections as a reviewer and as an advisor appointed to the National Advisory General Medical Sciences Council. His personal dedication to medical research and his mentorship of future physician-scientists will be sorely missed. -- Brittany Merth, spokeswoman for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences

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