If Dr. Richard O'Toole had known about fetal alcohol syndrome during his 35 years treating local children, his family is confident he would have championed efforts to prevent it.
Now, 28 years after his death, the popular Allegheny County pediatrician is making a difference -- even if only in name.
Last week, The Dr. Richard R. O'Toole Pediatric Fund's nine- member board of directors met for the first time to announce its mission of reducing cases of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The nonprofit was started by O'Toole's son, Dick O'Toole, 55, of Hampton.
"My father practiced at a time when birth defects were known to us only by the big ones -- polio, rubella -- and he was deeply committed to eradicating birth defects," said O'Toole, who resigned from a 25-year career in upscale hotel marketing to volunteer as the organization's executive director.
"Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder wasn't even on the map," he said. "It wasn't even talked about until 1973, and at that time, he had retired."
The disorder is caused by women drinking alcohol while they are pregnant, exposing their developing fetuses to alcohol.
Children with the disorder can have facial abnormalities, mental retardation, poor reasoning and judgment skills, coordination problems and hyperactive behavior, said Jennifer Willford, a scientific adviser to the new organization and an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
Fetal alcohol syndrome affects about one in 100 live births in the United States, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. …