The work of Dr. Holmes Morton

“These children are seen as important to the culture and the community. That they, through your efforts to help these children, that they teach you things that are helpful in other ways. And that that engenders within the community a sense of responsibility for everybody to take care of those who are disadvantaged.”

That’s Dr. Holmes Morton discussing the role of ill and disabled children in Plain society.  In 1989 Morton founded the Clinic for Special Children, dedicated to helping children with rare genetic diseases, many of them from the Amish and Mennonite communities.

Morton is featured in a moving documentary of his life and work by WVA Public Television (below). His path to becoming a specialist in this field is fascinating. Morton was a high school dropout who acquired his medical education in a rather unorthodox way. This aspect of his story in particular seems fitting to the communities he has chosen to serve.

In the video we get a close-up look at the clinic itself, a nimble, efficient operation, which also seems tailor-made to the Amish. We also see footage from the annual benefit auction, at which members of the Plain community show their financial support and deep appreciation for Morton and the work of the clinic.

The video is well worth watching. You can also read a recent article about the clinic’s current work and plans for “exporting” its medical model elsewhere in America and even internationally. Dr. Morton will be giving a lectures on the clinic’s work and plans at Elizabethtown College on November 8.

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    1. Marilyn from NY

      I think the work Dr. Morton has dedicated his life to is outstanding. His Amish work should be on TV rather than some of that other non-sense shows that are on. He and his wife are special to do this type of work.


    2. Richard from Amish Stories

      An update on the Lancaster area from storm Sandy!

      I have heard of Dr. Holmes Morton’s clinic here in Lancaster county so I admire the work that he’s doing for the plain community.

      With the storm Sandy passing through our part of Pennsylvania early this morning Id like to say that I hope no one was hurt in anyway from the high winds and flooding. I still have power which seems to be amazing because I was expecting the worst to be honest, and I can still lose power but I’m really grateful to still have it at the moment.

      We seem to flood here in the Lancaster area when things like this happen with creeks and lakes overflow and bleed on to our roads, so before I attempt to leave my home I will be watching our local news to get some kind of assessment of road conditions. New York City seems to have been blasted with flooding seen in many areas of the City, and New Jersey also got hit very hard as well.

      Richard from

      1. Hurricane Sandy in PA

        Richard thanks for a little news from PA. I spoke with a friend in Lancaster yesterday…kids were out of school by 1pm, it had been raining all day and he already had his sump pump going. I asked if he had his scuba gear ready to go. In all seriousness I hope that those in the path of the storm are able to avoid the worst of it.

    3. Karen Pollard

      An amazing man and physician. How wonderful he and his wife have dedicated their lives to helping others.

    4. Judy

      Comment on the work of Dr. Holmes Morton

      Erik, it is a video like this, and so many likewise valuable offerings, that make Amish America unique, and so worthwhile! It was informative and inspiring on so many levels, I just can’t say enough ebout it. I was employed by Mayo Clinic, Minnesota, for 20 years, and we do live within driving distance of Amish communities in Minnesota and Wisconsin, so this was of special interest. THank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

      1. Thanks Judy! I have to give Annmarie some credit for reminding me about this video. I knew it existed but had never watched it until she mentioned it on another comment thread last week. Quite moving at times, I thought. Dr. Morton himself seems moved at a number of times in the film, speaking about his work and patients.

    5. Carolyn B

      Loved the opportunity to see this PBS video on Dr Morton and the Plain Community. Thank you so much for posting it.

      I’ve read several fictionalized accounts based on Dr Morton’s work in Amish novels and am ecstatic to see the man for real.

      Re: the annual benefit auction — is it strictly for the Amish community to attend, or do they have a way to promote financial growth by inviting or hosting tour buses to come in just for the auction?

      1. I don’t know that they actively invite tour buses Carolyn, but plenty of non-Amish people do attend. I wrote a little about attending the auction a few years ago:

        Morton showed the crowd a simple wooden birdhouse and explained that it had been made by a local 17-year-old boy who suffered from a rare disease. Just a few years ago, Morton pointed out, someone with his condition would not be physically able to make something like it. But thanks to medical advances, this boy could and did.

    6. Anne

      Erik, What an amazing and inspiring story! Thanks for sending this to us. I was so taken by the associations with our Ed, funny that Dr. Morton loves cello!

      1. That’s neat Anne, did not even think of that.

    7. Margaret

      Thank you, Erk. My husband and I made time to watch this tonight, and we are so glad we did. It is encuraging to know there are doctors like this, making a difference that really matters.

      It would be interesting if you could meet with him seometime for a personal interview on what is ‘average’ day looks like, and how he sees the clinic after his retirement.

      Thanks again for this entry. Love you work and dedication!

      1. Margaret I appreciate this, and glad to be able to spread this story a little further. I’m curious to see how the new initiatives will turn out. I’ve never actually met Dr. Morton. Agreed, would love to speak with him–watching the film I didn’t sense any ego there, which was impressive in its own right, given what he has accomplished.

    8. Adair

      What a really wonderful video! And please keep us updated as best you can about how Amish in Pennsylvania and New York and elsewhere fared in the storm, as we probably won’t see that anywhere else.

      1. Adair, if you haven’t seen it yet, there is a thread with updates from various places:

        I did correspond with another Amish friend on Friday. He said it wasn’t as bad as in other places, perhaps because of them being in the direct path of the eye of the storm (?)

        1. Adair

          Thanks! I will look at that thread as soon as I can!

    9. Annmarie

      I was just able to get on to AA today bc my area was hit so hard by the storm. Just got power back after 5 days. I work as a Microbiologist and we lost our entire lab…so sad…Anyways, I am so happy you posted the link here. It is such an inspirational piece. One that gives hope…in so many ways. As a parent to an 11 year old boy who is bright, but struggles in school…I watched it with him so, he can see what a great man Dr. Morton is and the unconventional path he took. To keep it brief, you can achieve anything you desire with hard work. Looking forward to catching up on AA now that my Internet is back.

      1. Annmarie I hope you manage at work somehow, that must be beyond discouraging.

        Glad you were able to get back on and catch us up, and people will continue to pray for those hit, I am sure.

    10. Kathie M

      Eric, I’m a little later in seeing this video, but I felt moved to express my gratitude to you for providing it. I have had a long-standing interest in learning more about Dr. Morton and the Clinic for Special Children, both because of my love and interest in the Amish and because of my own life’s work. I have served as a pediatric occupational therapist for nearly 30 years now. Serving children with special needs, particularly in early intervention with infants, toddlers and preschool-aged children,has gifted me with the privilege of working very closely with these children and their families – mostly in our little center, with some being served on a weekly basis in their homes or local daycare settings. I continue to learn so much from each of these children and their families, and have some understanding of the long hours spent researching more about their conditions so that I can better help to reduce the effects of their disabilities and increase the possibilities for their lives. This truly has been and continues to be deeply meaningful work for me,and I feel blessed to have had some small part in their life journies – and for the bonds that often continue years after I no longer am directly serving them. I am inspired by Dr. Holmes Morton’s story and the important work that he, his wife, and the staff continue to do within the Plain community. It felt so important and appropriate that the Amish and Mennonite community came together to “raise” the clinic, and that it is located down a long lane on an Amish farm. That the community can embrace and feel comfortable in this place, and trust and support its staff is so important to getting early diagnoses and care. Truly this place was meant to be, and continues to bless many. I fully trust that the work that has been started will continue long after Dr. Morton retires – which, hopefully, won’t be any time soon! Thanks again for sharing this with us, Eric – and for the additional links!

      1. Glad it struck a chord, Kathie, and glad for the reader who reminded me of it. Moving story.

    11. Holmes Morton lecture - Elizabethtown College

      Just to follow up, a description of Dr. Morton’s Nov. 8 lecture can be found here:

      There you’ll also find a number of links concerning his work, the first of which takes you to a 167-page PDF document entitled: “Roads Taken: Recollections, Words, and Images from Meaningful Work: Selected Stories, Essays, and Letters 1988-2012, for the Durnbaugh Lectures at Elizabethtown College, November 8, 2012.”

      There is a lot there, including vignettes and thoughts on some of his patients he’s treated through the years and their families. I’ve only scratched the surface of it but I suspect there will be much of interest there to anyone who has followed Dr. Morton’s work.

    12. Linda

      According to a newsletter from a bookstore, a new book has been published titled “God’s Special Children,” by Benuel M. Fisher. The description reads, “Since 1988 Dr. Morton has researched a rare genetic disorder that has suddenly struck especially Amish children in Lancaster County. He has done much to help them. This is the story of several such children. Paperback. 186 pages.” $9.50 plus shipping

    13. Jacqueline reber

      thanks Dr. morton

      I am a patient of dr motons and i love him to death. i thank him so much for saving my life countless times. hes a awesome hero and is my hero for my research project in LA today.