It not a secret why Dr. Chuck Dietzen has devoted his life to becoming a caregiver for children.
His late parents, Anita and Cornelius, took in more than 150 foster children, including many infants, and adopted two children as well. Anita was the oldest of 13 children.
Four years before Dietzen was born, an older brother, Timmy, died a few days after he was born.
“I was the one that asked my mom, ‘How did you find out and what did that feel like?’” said Dietzen, who moved from Carmel to Zionsville in 2000. “I never met (Timmy) but felt like I always knew him.”
When Dietzen started an Indianapolis nonprofit 20 years ago that expands access to health care around the world, he named it the Timmy Foundation (now named Timmy Global Health) to honor his brother.
Dietzen, 56, has never married or had children of his own.
“I always say I have thousands of dependents all over the world,” Dietzen said. “They need help, and they need adults that are looking after them.
Dietzen works full-time as chief of pediatric rehabilitation medicine for Riley Hospital for Children. Among his other duties, he is medical director of Easter Seals Crossroads Rehabilitation Center, chief medical officer of iSalus Healthcare and medical program consultant at Bradford Woods, a wheelchair accessible camp. Dietzen does work for Long-term Investment in Healthcare in China, helping to design centers and patient care.
“I often said pediatric rehabilitation is not a location, it’s a philosophy,” Dietzen said. “I truly believe in the value of every human life.”
Ecuador, Guatemala, Nigeria and the Dominican Republic are the primary reaches for Timmy Global Health. Students from college campuses from across the U.S. help on missions.
“In the last 16 years, it has kept growing,” Dietzen said. “It grows organically because of the passion of the students. A lot of these students become like my sons and daughters, they’re world-changers. I always say you need to be ordinary, but you need to have extraordinary vision. I learned that from Mother Teresa. You go over there thinking, ‘I can’t do what these ladies do.’ That’s not my mission, but collectively we do these great things. If an ordinary person is ready to take on an extraordinary mission, he can make changes.”
Dietzen’s work in global medicine took off when he took four trips to India in 1997 and 1998 on orthopedic missions. He got to work with Mother Teresa and was inspired to start his nonprofit.
“On the second trip I got to talk with Mother,” Dietzen said. “She and the other sisters were kind to me. Mother sent me a letter with blessed rosaries. After she passed, I was sent pieces of sari.”
Dietzen said meeting Mother Teresa was the highlight of his life.
“As Mother said, ‘We can do no great things, only small things with great love,’” Dietzen said. “No matter what the need is or where I am, each person is worth my time and investment. One of the things Mother talked to us about is the importance of hope and not abandoning our patience.”
Dietzen learned the importance of remaining at the bedside.
“It’s going to hurt and you’re going to get your heart broken,” Dietzen said. “We cannot cure all of this stuff, but you could certainly heal someone. Mother’s message was don’t abandon anyone in their time of need, even if you can’t cure them.”
Denise Shalkowski, Riley Hospital for Children nurse practitioner said Dietzen has a special bedside manner with patients.
“He is able to reach to meet some of our patients in very meaningful ways, all of our kids, but especially our teenagers who have been in car accidents or have spinal cord injuries,” Shalkowski said. “I call him the Pied Piper because everybody loves him. He has a way of reaching kids and finding things to motivate them in rehab.”
Dietzen estimates he has worked in 30 countries and has done 110 trips in the U.S. and abroad to serve the underserved.
“Sometimes they just need me to establish something, and I’ve gone in and set up a clinic in 48 hours,” Dietzen said. “Other times you are there for a month or so. But I go back and forth because so many of the things are here in the U.S. as well as the volunteers.”
Dietzen said spending time at a hospice at St. Vincent Pediatric Rehab Center, which no longer exists, was powerful.
“It makes the priorities in life so much clearer,” Dietzen said. “So much of what we concern ourselves with is meaningless when you consider the life of a child.”
Dietzen’s 2016 book “Pint-sized Prophets” includes 12 principles for leading a fulfilled life he learned from working with the children:
1. Be Present
2. Be Vulnerable
3. Be Courageous
4. Be Compassionate
5. Be Ordinary
6. Be True
7. Be Selfless
8. Be Humble
9. Be Hopeful
10. Be Amazed
11. Be an Instrument of Peace
12. Be an Inspiration
Dr. Chuck Dietzen will hold a book signing of “Pint-Sized Prophets” from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Dec. 30 at Black Dog Books, 115 S. Main St. Proceeds from book sales benefit the Timmy Global Health Foundation. Reserve a copy by calling Black Dog Books at 317-733-1747.