Fe del Mundo, a Filipina pediatrician, trailblazer, and humanitarian, whose life work revolved around the care and healing of children, is the subject of a November 27, 2018 Google Doodle honoring what would be her 107th birthday.
“Also known as ‘The Angel of Santo Tomas,’ del Mundo devoted her life to child healthcare and revolutionized pediatric medicine in the process, Google wrote with the Google Doodle. She is sometimes referred to as a “medical stateswoman.”
Fe del Mundo was a pioneer for women in medicine.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Fe del Mundo Revolutionized Healthcare in the Philippines After Seeing Her Sisters Die Young
Fe del Mundo was widely praised as a “humanitarian,” focusing a great deal of her work on children. She founded the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines, according to The Independent, and also founded The Children’s Medical Centre Foundation in 1957, which “provided medical care to rural communities lacking insurance,” the site notes.
According to writer Natasha Schlaffer, Fe del Mundo’s interest in pediatric healthcare derived in part from the loss of her own siblings; “three of Fe’s eight siblings died in infancy, and when her older sister became sick with appendicitis at age 11, there was nothing her family could do to save her,” Schlaffer writes. She was born to Paz Villanueva and her lawyer husband Bernardo del Mundo, according to PCIJ.
The site reports that del Mundo explained how her sister Elisa’s death at age 7 influenced her life’s trajectory, quoting her as saying, “She kept a little notebook where she wrote that she wanted to take up medicine. When she died, I decided to take her place.”
She developed a well-known treatment for diarrhea in children that was called BRAT, consisting of banana, rice, apple, and tea.
2. Fe del Mundo Attended Harvard Medical School Before the School Formally Accepted Women
Fe Del Mundo broke gender barriers. According to Schlaffer, she was an accomplished scholar who “graduated at the top of her class at the University of the Philippines in 1933” and was offered a scholarship to go to any college she desired by the country’s president.
She chose Harvard Medical School and was accepted but the university at first thought she was male. Harvard Medical School would not routinely accept women for another 10 years.
An exception was made due to her impressive talents, and Fe “became the first woman to ever attend Harvard Medical School,” Schlaffer writes.
A devout Catholic, she was described in Philippine Daily Inquirer as “petite, barely 5 feet tall with a fragile frame that belied a strong will and an agile mind. She was a fastidious dresser, well-turned out in coordinated tailored outfits, from dainty vintage jewelry to two-toned high heels and hair that was impeccably coifed.”
3. Dr. del Mundo Practiced Medicine Into Her 90s, Sometimes From a Wheelchair
Philip S. Chua, M.D., her former student, wrote a tribute to Fe when she died. “This phenomenal lady physician was married only to her lifetime care of sick children and never had a family of her own,” he wrote. “She practiced pediatrics up to her ripe old age of 94, most of time from her wheelchair since 3 years before.”
Fe died in 2011 at the age of 99. Her longevity was attributed in part to her positive spirit and healthy living; she once famously said, “Leave the dining table a little less full, a little hungry, and you will live longer.”
She also once said, according to MedObserver, “Women make good pediatricians and they can very much influence parents in the care of children. I feel that if you give the world the best that you can, the best will always come back to you. It’s worth exerting all your efforts to make the best of what you have and apply them in your practice because it’s a big help, and somehow [one that is] well rewarded.”
When she died, the Philippine Daily Inquirer memoralized her as an “esteemed doctor and healer and nurturer of generations of children.”
The news site notes that she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, “which is Asia’s version of the Nobel Prize.” The award website says Fe del Mundo was “a committed humanitarian, pediatrician, administrator, educator, researcher, author, public health advocate, whose pioneering spirit in fostering health and preventing sickness particularly among children helped not only in reducing infant morbidity and mortality in the country but also in establishing health, research, and educational institutions.”
4. Fe del Mundo Achieved Many ‘Firsts’
Fe del Mundo was the first at many things, an accomplished doctor who never failed to impress. Chua lists some of those firsts. “Dr. del Mundo was founder of Children’s Home in Manila and the Institute of Maternal and Child Health,” he writes.
“She was the first Filipino Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatrics, the first lady president of the Philippine Pediatric Society, the founder and first president of the Philippine Woman’s Medical Association, the first woman to be elected president of the Philippine Medical Association in it’s 65-year history, and the first Asian to be voted president of the Medical Woman’s International Association.”
She was also remembered lovingly by her family as “a gentle and affectionate sister, cousin and aunt.”
5. Dr. del Mundo Helped Children During the Japanese Occupation
In addition to her pediatric work, Dr. del Mundo is considered a humanitarian. Never was this more true than during the Japanese Occupation of her home country during World War II.
When war broke out, children were imprisoned. They were foreign nationals. She set up a “Children’s Home” to care “for these sick children in enemy-occupied Manila,” according to PCIJ.
Because she cared for American soldiers’ children during this time period, the U.S. government referred to her as showing “unflagging and selfless dedication and sacrifice,” MedObserver reports.
“I’m glad that I have been very much involved in the care of children, and that I have been relevant to them,” she told PCIJ. “They are the most outstanding feature in my life.”
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