A skilled pediatric urologist who performed the most delicate of surgeries and a devoted dad who founded a crew club at Fox Chapel High School, Dr. Mark Bellinger changed hundreds of lives for the better.
“The only reason Fox Chapel Crew exists is because of Mark Bellinger,” said former student-athlete Katie Mamatas, who now serves as the women’s head coach and a kindergarten teacher.
“I learned everything I know about coaching from him. He coached us into being good people, he didn’t just coach rowing. He helped us be the best version of ourselves. He was a phenomenal person — the amount of good he put into the world was unmatched.”
His colleagues in urology saw the same kind nature and dedication in “Dr. B,” who worked for many years at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
“He was considered the best pediatric urologist in the city,” urological surgeon Frank Costa said. “I let him treat my own son. That’s how much confidence I had in him. To operate on kids is no easy feat. He had no arrogance, no ego about him. He did the job, and that kind of trust among professionals is so important.
“We knew who the best of the best was — and that was Mark Bellinger.”
Dr. Bellinger, of Fox Chapel, died Feb. 9 of glioblastoma, a type of cancer. He was 73.
Before he was recruited to Children’s Hospital in 1985, Dr. Bellinger grew up in Syracuse, N.Y.
When he was a student at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, Dr. Bellinger met Catherine Mahardy, a surgical technician at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The couple married in June 1969.
Dr. Bellinger went on to earn a medical degree in 1974 from the State University of New York Upstate Medical University in Syracuse before working as an intern, resident and fellow at teaching hospitals in Philadelphia and Virginia.
Because pediatric urology wasn’t yet a recognized subspecialty, Dr. Bellinger had the distinction of being the first pediatric urologist in the region to be trained as a fellow, his partner and friend, Dr. Francis Schneck, said.
“There were very few pediatric urologists in the country at that time,” Dr. Schneck said. “Board certification came years later.”
“When we moved here, I was 5 years old,” said Dr. Bellinger’s daughter Katie Battilana, a registered nurse from Valencia, Butler County. “He became the head of pediatric urology at Children’s Hospital, and he basically covered the entire tri-state area.”
Mr. Bellinger found the best way to make kids feel at ease during a scary time was with silly ties and an impeccable impersonation of Donald Duck.
“He had quite a collection of kid-friendly ties that he would always wear on clinic days,” his daughter said. “That was kind of his claim to fame with all the kids.”
“Parents continued asking for him, even after he retired,” Dr. Schneck said. “He was great with the kids, but he wasn’t a silly guy. He was a consummate surgeon — he was a surgeon’s surgeon. There wasn’t anybody better than Mark or who studied more than Mark. He was in the hospital every morning at 5 a.m. He set an example for many years for medical students and residents.”
Dr. Schneck met the man who would become his mentor as a urology resident from 1989 to 1993.
“I immediately wanted to do pediatric urology after I saw him do a surgery,” he recalled. “I was recruited by Mark and [the University of Pittsburgh] to come here after my fellowship, and we became partners.”
Though he was at the pinnacle of his career, you wouldn’t know it to speak to Dr. Bellinger, his friend said.
“He was never arrogant,” Dr. Schneck said. “He had tremendous humility, but when he spoke, he spoke with tremendous authority. His clinical acumen was tremendous.”
Along with his position at Children’s Hospital, Dr. Bellinger taught at the Pitt School of Medicine and had a private practice with Dr. Schneck.
Dr. Bellinger also traveled throughout Africa with International Volunteers in Urology, helping to treat kids in countries like Ghana, Zambia and Senegal.
After a long day at work, Dr. Bellinger found rowing to be a tonic — but it was an offhand remark by his daughter that would change both of their lives.
“One day, I was with him in the boathouse,” said Mrs. Battilana, the youngest of four children. “I said, ‘That would be fun.’ The next thing I knew, he’s starting a team in the spring of my freshman year, in 1994. I think there were 13 of us. I knew nothing about it.”
Like her father, Mrs. Battilana found an affinity for rowing on the rivers — and her dad even gave the first team boat a tongue-in-cheek name: “Katie’s Fault.” She continued with the sport through college.
In the meantime, Dr. Bellinger raised funds and the profile of the team. Within a few years, membership expanded dramatically.
“We’ve had some really big years with up to 90 kids on the team,” said Ms. Mamatas, the coach. “Now on average, we have about 50 kids a year at the high school and at [Dorseyville Middle School]. Mark was anything and everything the team needed him to be: the boat repairman, the coach, the driver. He was a jack of all trades.”
“I think the passion for him was mentoring,” said his daughter, who has heard from dozens of former students in recent days about how her father changed their lives. “He really enjoyed teaching, and he was a good role model for kids. Just feeling involved in a team sport, feeling included, especially during those pivotal years in high school, is huge.”
A doting grandfather, Dr. Bellinger loved spending as much time as possible with his six grandchildren after he retired in 2013.
Dr. Schneck said he would remember Dr. Bellinger for all of his qualities that made him a great friend and practitioner.
“He had a very quick wit, but he wasn’t gregarious,” he said. “People wanted to be around him because he was a great guy. He was a very good listener. He wasn’t a person who said a lot about himself — he wanted to hear about your life. And he wasn’t quick about giving advice: He had so much humility, he didn’t think it was his place.”
Along with his wife, his daughter Katie and his six grandchildren, Dr. Bellinger is survived by his three other children, Deb Morgan, of Bedford, N.H., Mike Bellinger, of Blawnox, and Todd Bellinger, of Ohio Township; and by his siblings Diane Schillo, of Clinton, Mo., Tom Bellinger, of Lakewood, Colo., John Bellinger, of Hobe Beach, Fla., and Rick Bellinger, of Syracuse, N.Y.
His funeral was Feb. 14.
In lieu of flowers, the family respectfully suggests memorial contributions to The Outlier Fund, which raises funds for glioblastoma research and awareness, or to Fox Chapel Area Crew Club to support the team and athletes.
Janice Crompton: email@example.com.
First Published February 21, 2022, 5:45am