THE Family history of the BATSHAW method

 Mission Statement for Batshaw Youth and Family Centres, Quebec, Canada

My grandfather, Manuel Batshaw was born in 1916 in Montreal, Canada. He received a degree in Social Work from McGill University in 1937.  He served in the Canadian Military during WWII as a social worker, quickly rising to the level of Captain. He treated wounded soldiers who were suffering from what would later in the century be labeled as post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  

After the war he spent the majority of his career within the Allied Jewish Community Services eventually becoming it’s Executive Director. He retired from the AJCS and moved back to Montreal and became the head of charitable giving for the Bronfman Foundation, working in partnership with its founder Charles Bronfman. Read more.

In 1975, at age 59, Manny saw an expose in the Montreal newspaper documenting the horrible abuses of children within residential care institutions in Quebec, Canada. He was outraged and immediately called the government director of Health and Human Services in Montreal to inquire as to what was being done to address the abuse of children. The government of Quebec asked Manny to be the director of a committee that would investigate all 75 child residential centers in the providence in Quebec. The conclusion of this work was an 11 volume investigative study and series of recommendations to completely change and reform the way children were treated in the child welfare system. These progressive changes became a model for the treatment of all children throughout Canada in the 40 years since that study and remain a progressive model for children’s rights even today. The report was named The Batshaw Committee Report.

In 1992, all of the English speaking child welfare residential centers in Quebec were joined under one organization and named the Batshaw Youth and Family Centres in honor of Manuel Batshaw. Read more.

For his work in reforming child welfare in Canada he received an honorary doctorate from McGill University in 1998 and the Order of Canada; (equivalent to the Presidential Medal of Freedom in the U.S.) Read more 

He retired from working part time to raise money for hospitals in Montreal at the age of 95. My grandfather passed down both his passion for helping others and the importance of trusting your own intuition and empirical judgements above the status quo.

My father, Dr. Mark Batshaw, was born in Montreal, Canada in 1945. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and Majored in the Biological Basis of Behavior. He went to the University of Chicago Medical School and did his residency at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario.

He followed this with a fellowship at Johns Hopkins Medical Center and stayed on eventually becoming a Professor of Pediatrics. Dr. Batshaw continued his father’s example in utilizing both his intuition and his empirical observations in a case that would revolutionize the treatment of a rare genetic disease.

When Dr. Batshaw was a clinical fellow in developmental pediatrics at Johns Hopkins in the early 1970’s he admitted a 12 year old girl who had a history of recurrent episodes of coma and progressive cognitive impairment. She was thought to have a stroke-like disease. Batshaw, however, in taking a history, noted that these episodes occurred after she ate meals having a high protein content. He thought she might be having difficulties metabolizing (breaking down) the protein and was, as a result, accumulating a toxin. Through persistent medical investigation he discovered that she, in fact, had a rare genetic disorder that had only been described for the first time the decade before. She was deficient in a urea cycle enzyme that normally converts toxic ammonia, a product of protein breakdown, to non-toxic urea. The result of this enzyme deficiency was an accumulation of ammonia and resultant brain injury. The only known treatment for this disorder at the time was severe protein restriction which led to malnutrition and early death.  

In attending a lecture a few months later, Batshaw learned of a new compound, keto-acids, which were being used to treat chronic kidney failure which is also associated with protein intolerance but not with elevated ammonia levels. He arranged to use these compounds to substitute for protein in his patient. The keto-acids resulted in a lowering in ammonia levels by binding to it and an improvement in nutrition by converting the keto-acids to amino acids, the building blocks of nutritional protein. 

Barely 30 years old, his report of this innovative therapy was a lead article in the prestigious medical journal the New England Journal of Medicine. Over the next decade, he and his colleague invented a series of incrementally more effective treatments for urea cycle disorders that transformed these devastating diseases from uniformly fatal to treatable. It also created the new concept of alternate pathway therapy, or using a detour around an enzyme block, that is now a staple in treating other metabolic disorders. Now, at age 70, my father, Dr. Mark Batshaw continues to be an active researcher as well as Physician-in-Chief and Chief Academic Officer at Children’s National Medical Center, in Washington, DC and is a Professor and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Throughout the course of my life, my father reinforced upon me the lessons he learned from his father and added the incredibly important concepts of hypothesis, observation and experimentation, methods I use in my work today. Perhaps even more importantly, he passed on two important philosophies to me, “Always look outside the box!” and “Do everything in life with passion!”