Donald Don Joseph Fernbach

April 10, 1925September 22, 2013
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Donald Joseph Fernbach, M.D. 88, died on September 22, 2013 in Houston, TX. Don was born to Jules and Dorothy Hever Fernbach in Brooklyn, NY on the 10th of April 1925.

As a precocious young boy he loved exploring the Museum of Natural Science in NYC and spent so much time there that they asked him to be a docent. He was active in scouting, earning the rank of Eagle Scout by age 14. Don was a WWII Army veteran with the 100th Infantry Division who served in the European Theater and was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery and heroism. He graduated from Tusculum College in Greeneville, TN in 1948. He received his medical degree from George Washington University School of Medicine in 1952. He entered his residency in pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine as one of its first residents.

Following his pediatric residency, he completed a residency in pediatric pathology at Children’s Medical Center and Harvard University School of Medicine in Boston followed by a fellowship in hematology and oncology. In 1957, he returned to Texas and joined the faculty at Baylor College of Medicine, founding the Research Hematology-Oncology Service at Texas Children’s Hospital in 1958, now known as the Texas Children’s Cancer Center. From 1957-1991 Dr. Fernbach served as the Head of the Hematology and Oncology Section of the Department of Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine; Chief of the Hematology and Oncology Service at Texas Children’s Hospital; and Director of the Research Hematology Laboratory at Texas Children’s Hospital. During his tenure at Baylor, he became a professor of pediatrics and published more than 160 scientific articles.

He was the co-editor and author of the first textbook on Clinical Pediatric Oncology and enjoyed being a faculty mentor to physician scientists, many who are now leaders in this field. His research team discovered the value of cyclophosphamide, which has become of one of the most effective and widely used chemotherapy agents for adults as well as children. As the director of the Blood Transfusion Services at Texas Children’s Hospital from 1957-1971, he was the first physician in Houston to use a plastic blood bagging system and one of the first anywhere to use blood component therapy for children. He performed the first bone marrow transplant from one identical twin to another to treat aplastic anemia. He led the effort to develop newborn screening for sickle cell disease years before it became a state mandate. In 1978, he helped start the Ronald McDonald House Houston along with pivotal parent leaders. And to protect the children in his care, he led the movement to ban smoking in the Texas Medical Center.

Dr. Fernbach was awarded an American Cancer Society Professorship of Clinical Oncology and the first Elise C. Young Chair of Pediatric Oncology at Baylor College of Medicine, which he held until his retirement in 1991. Among his numerous awards, he received a citation from the Texas Division of the American Cancer Society for leadership in securing coverage for children with cancer under the Crippled Children’s Services of Texas. He received a Distinguished Faculty Award by the Baylor College of Medicine Alumni. He was honored by the Leukemia Society of America, Houston Chapter; Friends of Houston Hospice; Ronald McDonald House Houston; and received the Gibson D. Lewis Award for Clinical Activities in Cancer Control by the Texas Cancer Council. In 1993, he received the St. George Medal in recognition for outstanding contribution to the control of cancer by the American Cancer Society - National Division. In 2006, the Houston Alumnae of Kappa Alpha Theta honored Dr. Fernbach and his contributions to the treatment of pediatric cancer and his love of teaching by establishing the Donald J. Fernbach M.D. Lectureship Series at Texas Children’s Hospital.

Even though Don was born in New York, he considered himself a true Texan, owning a small ranch, an old pair of boots, an antique pickup, and spending countless hours in the saddle of his tractor. He was a voracious reader and particularly loved WWII history. He was also an avid letter writer and loved to write editorial letters to the Houston Post under the pseudonym Joe Bach.

He dearly loved his family and is survived by his wife of 59 years, Freddie Lucille Fernbach, his sisters; Dorothy Campbell, (Johnson City, TN), L. Virginia Fernbach, (Alexandria, VA), his children; Susan Fernbach and Peter Boudreaux, Judy and Chris Simon, Karin and Gene Kraft (Olympia, WA), Don and Karen Fernbach and his beloved grandchildren; Fritz and Karl Kraft, Andre and Camille Boudreaux, Christopher and Mia Simon, Allison and Tyler Fernbach.

We thank the physicians and nurses who have provided superb care for Don over the years, Dr. James Herlihy, the BCM Geriatrics team and Dr. Christopher Nevins. We also thank his caregivers Celain Anthony, Beatriz Cortez and for the loving care provided by Houston Hospice.

A memorial service is to be conducted at ten o’clock in the morning on Saturday, the 12th of October at St. Michael Catholic Church, 1801 Sage Road in Houston. Immediately following, all are invited to greet the family during a reception in the Parish Life Center. Dr. Fernbach will be inurned at the Houston National Cemetery in a private service with military honors.

In lieu of customary remembrances, the family kindly requests memorial contributions be directed to the Texas Children’s Cancer Center, 1919 S. Braeswood Blvd., Suite 5214, Houston, Texas 77030; Ronald McDonald House Houston, 1907 Holcombe Boulevard, Houston, TX 77030; The Periwinkle Foundation, 3400 Bissonnet, Suite 185, Houston, TX 77005; or a charity of one’s choice.


  • Memorial Service Saturday, October 12, 2013

Donald Don Joseph Fernbach

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Tina Goodrich

October 15, 2013

I'm so sorry to hear of Don's passing. I remember my trip to Kentucky for the 50th reunion of the 100th Infantry in 1995 with my mom and dad. We later went on to tour Indiana and stayed in Brown County at a lodge dad had visited as a young man. It was the first time I had met Don and remember him as a compassionate, intelligent man. Many fine memories... Blessings to your family.

October 15, 2013

My son was a patient of Dr. Fernbach,s 34 years ago. We were in the parking lot in those days. He was the kindest most accessible Dr anyone could ask for . Timmy didn't t live but was treated with such love and respect. We helped as little as we could with the first RMH. 33years later I volunteer at TCH for RMH . I can t thank him enough for all he did for my toddler. Joanne hansen

Mike Goodrich

October 14, 2013

My condolences to the Fernbach family. My dad always spoke fondly of Don, both from their Army days and in later years when they reconnected. We're very sorry for your loss and are keeping you in our thoughts during this difficult time.

Sara McDaniel

October 13, 2013

A witty conversationalist and a great doctor. He made a difference in so many lives. His memory lives on.

Mary Nugent.

October 12, 2013

Mrs Fernbach, Susan, Judy and all the family, my mother, Leonor Smith and I want to send our heartfelt condolences on Dr Fernbach's passing. We know he is embraced in paradise by our Lord and Savior. May you be comforted in the days and weeks ahead. Dr Fernbach made such a contribution to so many lives. I was honored to have crossed his path while he was on this earth. May God bless you all.


October 11, 2013

May the love of friends and family carry you through your grief.

Richard Gebhard

October 10, 2013

Dear Mrs Fernbach, Don, Karen, Susie and Judy,

I am so sorry to hear about the passing of your husband and father, and since hearing the news from young Don, I couldn't help but reminisce a bit about growing up with you all.

It was some 40+ years ago when you moved in across the street when we found ourselves, me on one side sitting on the curb, and Donald - what we called him back then, DJ to his daddy - and Karen on the other, all wondering what to make of newcomers and new surroundings. Eventually, one of us broke the stalemate and we became life long friends…and the memories began.

My memories of your dad do not begin with his remarkable medical career and all those he helped - I became aware of that much later in my life - but rather as a young kid growing up across the street, who was always in his house or pool along with the Fernbach kids; I remember what kids remember.

Within an instant from when I heard from Don about Dr Fernbach's passing, some fond memories came rushing back…

I knew I shouldn't touch his tools in the shop - young Don made that clear - and I witnessed him dispatch a Cotton Mouth in Columbus with nothing more than a pocket knife and a putter. I remember Don, Karen and I deciding we should own guinea pigs one year, and had the brilliant idea of building a cage for them…outside…underground. Your dad's reaction was priceless… the cage looked good, but at a foot or so deep and chicken wire for a roof, what were we going to do when it rained?

Always kind and quick witted, I remember that I liked to be around him back then, even though he kept you on your toes. As an adult, he seemed always happy to see me, and for that I am truly honored and grateful.

I am so sad for your loss, but his was a life to be celebrated by all that knew and loved him; his life touched so many others, and his legacy will live on for years to come.

God Bless him and you; you are all in my prayers.


Ken Gebhard

October 10, 2013

My condolences to the Fernbach family. It was a privilege and pleasure to know him. Great man with a great family!

Sami Rahman

October 10, 2013

What a wonderfu gentleman and colleague! I am so thankful for all he accomplished to take Pediatric Cancer treatment in such a positive direction.

October 6, 2013

Dr. Fernbach took such wonderful care of my dear little sister, Katie, at Texas Children's Hospital from 1964-1969. He made her feel comfortable and loved for those years. We will not forget him. What a beloved man!