A Miraculous Start to a Meaningful Life
May 10, 2023 Carrie St. Michel
Carol Zaslow’s first meal was a single drop of breast milk delivered skillfully through an eyedropper in an urgent effort to keep this 14-ounce, painfully fragile wisp of an infant alive. Born at Cedars-Sinai three months premature on Dec. 6, 1945, this littlest of little ones was given a 1 in 50,000 chance of survival.
Carol’s twin sister, who weighed a pound and a half, died three hours after birth. While preterm infants weighing under a pound have much better odds of survival today—nearly 80 years after Carol’s birth—preterm births remain loaded with medical challenges.
After four weeks, Carol’s eyedropper feedings were replaced with a feeding tube that delivered 13 teaspoons of breast milk to her tiny tummy every three hours, around the clock. This liquid nutrition—and the fact that Cedars-Sinai was equipped with incubators for preterm infants and employed obstetricians and nurses trained in the latest scientific advances in caring for these babies—enabled Carol to become the 1 out of 50,000.
She not only survived, but went on to build a meaningful, purposeful life centered on family—husband, David Zaslow, and daughters, Tracy and Carrie (now both doctors)—and taking every opportunity to help others.
"Cedars-Sinai holds a special place in our hearts for all the care Carol received this year and since her birth."
Cedars-Sinai through and through
For Carol, who was referred to as a “miracle baby” throughout her life, Cedars-Sinai always felt like part of the family, intertwined as it was with her actual family tree.
Her father, the late Clarence Agress, MD, was a prominent cardiologist who founded Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Cardiology and its first coronary care unit, and served as chief of Cardiology at the medical center.
An accomplished biomedical investigator, Dr. Agress published nearly 100 research papers and is credited with pioneering the use of thrombolytic enzymes to dissolve blood clots in the heart. In 1994, the Dorothy and E. Phillip Lyon Chair in Molecular Cardiology in honor of Clarence M. Agress, MD, was established at Cedars-Sinai in recognition of his achievements.
Carol’s mother, Marjorie Agress, was a volunteer leader of Helping Hand of Los Angeles. Founded in 1929, Helping Hand’s initiatives continue to support Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
As a teenager, Carol followed in her mother’s volunteer footsteps, serving as a Cedars-Sinai candy striper. A precursor of the Cedars-Sinai High School Student Volunteer Program, candy stripers were female volunteers who wore red-and-white-striped aprons reminiscent of candy canes.
A particularly joyous connection to Cedars-Sinai came when Carol and David welcomed their girls into the world: Tracy arrived first, followed six years later by Carrie.
“Carol made it clear that our children would be born at Cedars-Sinai. She wouldn’t go anywhere else. She only trusted Cedars-Sinai doctors,” says David, a certified public accountant who built a successful firm specializing in real estate income tax.
Dedicated educator and volunteer
Carol grew up in Westwood, California, and graduated from the University of Southern California with a triple major in English, social services and education. She taught kindergarten and first grade in the Inglewood Unified School District for several years before becoming a stay-at-home mom for Tracy and Carrie.
A dedicated volunteer, Carol started a Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) program at her girls’ elementary school and served as a Brownie troop leader, room mother and Parent Teacher Association president. She also started a community service and service-learning program at her daughters’ high school and was elected to the board of BookEnds, a nonprofit literacy organization.
“Our mom definitely stressed the importance of family, community and giving to others,” Tracy recalls.
Carrie remembers Carol having both specific and overarching passions: “My mom really cared about children, education and literacy, and she generally supported anything that involved giving to others.”
David sums up Carol’s giving spirit succinctly: “She was always focused on doing good things in the world.”
Two daughters, two doctors
The Zaslows weren’t intent on their daughters becoming doctors, but both did, and both credit Carol.
Tracy Zaslow, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician, a primary care sports medicine physician, a Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s provider, and medical director of Pediatric Sports Medicine at the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute.
“My mom was so excited when I joined the Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute,” Tracy notes. “She always wanted me to be part of the Cedars-Sinai team, and I’m glad she got to see that dream come true.”
Tracy points to Carol as a career influence. “My mom definitely inspired the idea of wanting to help people and stressed the importance of giving to others,” Tracy says. “I combined her guidance with my interest in science, and that steered me to medicine.”
Tracy, who serves as team physician for the Angel City FC and the L.A. Galaxy, was drawn to pediatric sports medicine because it combined her “enjoyment of caring for kids with my belief in the importance of healthy physical activity. I also like being able to help kids recover from injuries and teaching them prevention strategies that hopefully will set them up for a lifetime of safe physical activity.”
Carrie Zaslow, MD, is an ophthalmologist who is fellowship trained in corneal and external diseases of the eye. She practices at Draga Eye Care and Surgery Associates in Queens, New York.
Carol’s “miracle baby” beginnings made Carrie “feel like there was a reason my mom survived, and that gave me the desire to have purpose in my career. My mom was very appreciative of everyone at Cedars-Sinai who helped her survive, and that also inspired me to pursue medicine.”
Carrie was attracted to ophthalmology because she enjoys treating patients of all ages and likes the specialty’s many facets, such as surgery. There also may have been a subconscious factor at work: The only lasting repercussion from Carol’s premature birth was damage to her vision that required her to wear strong prescription eyeglasses from an early age.
Tracy L. Zaslow, MD
Tracy L. Zaslow, MD
A third act as a published author
During the empty-nest phase of her life, Carol fulfilled a lifelong dream of writing children’s books. Through a chance encounter, Carol reconnected with a high school friend, Patti Tanenbaum. The pair not only discovered a mutual desire to pen books for young readers, but also uncovered an almost unbelievable coincidence: They were incubator buddies in the Cedars-Sinai Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, although Patti—who weighed 3 pounds, 12 ounces—dwarfed tiny Carol.
With this amazing, shared origin story as a backdrop, Carol and Patti created Little Kids Do BIG Things, an award-winning series of books designed to teach youngsters about the joy, goodness and importance of being active citizens. The series includes Big Shaggy Max, Lovable Grandpa Joe and Gotta Have Heart.
When Carol wasn’t creating children’s books, she was curating them for an especially important group. “She loved buying books for her five grandkids, and she loved reading to them,” Tracy says.
Honoring her meaningful life
In April 2022, Carol was admitted to Cedars-Sinai for surgery to treat mitral valve regurgitation, a progressive heart-valve disease. Several weeks later, she was readmitted due to surgical complications that proved untreatable. Carol passed away on June 10, 2022.
In recognition of her deep love of children and her core belief that happy, healthy kids will become compassionate, engaged adults who will shepherd and strengthen their communities, David, Tracy and Carrie created the Carol Zaslow Memorial Fund, which will support pediatric research at Cedars-Sinai Guerin Children’s. Donations may be made to Cedars-Sinai in Carol’s name. Most proceeds from Carol’s and Patti’s last book, Gotta Have Heart, also will be donated to the memorial fund.
On Carol’s memorial web page, the family wrote: “Cedars-Sinai holds a special place in our hearts for all the care Carol received this year and since her birth.”
First Mother’s Day without “miracle baby” mom
“We’ll definitely do something to remember her,” says Carrie, referring to Mother’s Day on May 14, which will be the first without Carol. “Maybe I’ll make her famous lemon Bundt cake, and I definitely will set aside some time to read a book. My mom loved to read.”
Tracy plans to honor her mother’s memory “by being together with family and sharing our favorite memories of her.” High on that list of cherished recollections is a moment from Mother’s Day 2022, when Carol was an inpatient at Cedars-Sinai. “I’ll never forget her radiant smile when her two granddaughters made a surprise visit and showered their grammie with big hugs,” Tracy says.
While David still sometimes expects Carol to walk through the front door of their home, he’s comforted by the fact that he was “blessed to find such a wonderful, caring, kind woman to be my wife. Carol truly was a miracle baby, and that blessing led to our wonderful, very accomplished daughters who were blessed with their own children—our five happy, healthy, bright grandchildren who bring so much joy. The odds were stacked against Carol, but look at the legacy she left.”