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How Fe del Mundo Changed Pediatrics Forever

Fe del Mundo was an influential figure in pediatric medicine in the Philippines. In part, she is remembered because she pioneered so much of her chosen field in her country. However, it should be noted that she contributed a fair amount to medical science in between providing healthcare to children. In short, she became interested in the field of medicine because of an older sister who had spoken out about her dream of becoming a doctor for the poor but never got the chance to fulfill her dream because she died at the age of 11 because of appendicitis. By 1926, she had been enrolled at the University of the Philippines Manila College of Medicine, and by 1933, she had earned her medical degree. It was her experiences with the various health problems experienced by children in this time period that led to her choosing pediatrics for her particular specialization.

However, that wasn't the end of her medical training. Upon graduating, she went on to study at a number of institutions in the United States, with the best-known example being her master's degree in bacteriology at the Boston University School of Medicine. Other institutions ranged from Harvard Medical School to Johns Hopkins Hospital.

How Did She Change Pediatrics Forever?

In 1941, the doctor returned to the Philippines where she proceeded to start providing healthcare for children. Her initial efforts saw her opening up a hospice, but when the Japanese invaders shut down the hospice in 1943, she was asked by the then mayor of Manila to head up a children's hospital that was later turned into a full-care medical center because of the casualties from the Battle of Manila. Following the Second World War, she continued to work in her chosen field as well as in coordination with other parties. Eventually, the doctor made a choice to found her own hospital that would specialize in her chosen field, which was made possible by her choosing to sell most of her personal possessions as well as a loan. This resulted in the first hospital in the Philippines that specialized in pediatric medicine in 1957. While the doctor soon turned over her ownership of the hospital to a board of trustees in 1958, she continued to practice into her 90s.

Besides her contribution to pediatrics, the doctor was involved in the study of infectious diseases as well. Some examples of the infectious diseases that she studied included polio and measles. However, she tends to be best-known because of her study of dengue fever, which was a common issue in the Philippines but nonetheless not very well-understood in those times. Besides this, it is interesting to note that the doctor also authored Textbook of Pediatrics, which is considered one of the fundamental texts for medical schools in the Philippines.

On top of this, it should be mentioned that the doctor seems to have shared her older sister's sympathy for the poor. For proof, look no further than the fact that she played an important role in public health, with an excellent example being her organization of teams to head out to remote communities to provide mothers in said locations with important information about breastfeeding and other child care topics. This was a part of her overall effort to improve health outcomes for the residents in said locations, which ranged from her support for bring midwives on board with the medical establishment to her support for family planning in spite of her own Catholic faith. The doctor even came up with a bamboo incubator, which might not have been able to provide the same benefits as their conventional counterparts but was nonetheless useful in places without electricity.

Why Was This So Important?

Medicine has advanced so much in modern times that we take a lot of its benefits for granted. In particular, it is important to note that mortality rates for young children were horrific before the rise of modern medicine, which is why life expectancies were so low in pre-modern times. By playing such a influential role in her chosen field for an entire country, the doctor has had a huge impact on the well-being of a lot of people out there, meaning that she has more than earned the number of awards and other accolades that have been handed out to her.

10 Things You Didn't Know about Fe Del Mundo

1. Born in Intramuros, Manila

Del Mundo was born in a place called Intramuros, which means "within the walls." In short, Intramuros was the City of Manila in the Spanish Colonial period, meaning that it was the economic, political, and religious center of the region. Nowadays, Manila has expanded far beyond its boundaries, though it remains a place of considerable historical interest.

2. Her Family Home Faced the Manila Cathedral

When del Mundo was still a child, her family home faced the Manila Cathedral. It is interesting to note that said cathedral is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, which is one of the titles of the Virgin Mary. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Virgin Mary is the most famous of the Philippines's patron saints.

3. Her Family Was Pretty Prominent

Del Mundo's family was pretty prominent. In fact, it should be mentioned that her father was a well-known lawyer who spent a term as a member of the Philippine Assembly representing the province that is now called Quezon but was once called Tayabas. The fact that four of del Mundo's eight siblings died when they were still children speaks volumes about just how horrific the problem of child mortality was in those times. Something that in turn, serves to highlight del Mundo's contributions to pediatrics that much more.

4. The President of the Philippines Offered to Pay for Her Further Training in the United States

On the whole, it is no exaggeration to say that del Mundo was a very, very good student. After all, she was the valedictorian for her class. Moreover, del Mundo's academic accomplishments seem to have been well-known as well, seeing as how the President of the Philippines Manuel Quezon made an offer to cover the tuition for whatever U.S. medical school that she was interested in, which isn't the kind of thing that heads of state make for just anyone.

5. Sometimes Claimed to Be First Female Student at Harvard Medical School

There are those who have claimed that del Mundo was either the first female student or the first female student studying pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. However, while del Mundo did complete some graduate work at said institution, there is no evidence to support the idea that she actually enrolled as a student there. If anything, there is evidence against it because she was already a doctor by that point in time. Furthermore, it should be mentioned that Harvard Medical School didn't accept women as students in those times.

6. Volunteered to Care for Child Detainees At an Internment Camp

Del Mundo returned to the Philippines from the United States no more than a short time before the Japanese invasion during World War 2. As a result, she was very active in providing healthcare for those who needed it, with an excellent example being how she volunteered to care for the children who were detained at an internment camp that had been set up at the University of Santos Tomas. While del Mundo was limited by the resources that were available to her, it is clear that she had a profound impact on the people for which she provided care, as shown by how she was called the Angel of Santos Tomas.

7. Continued Practicing in Her 90s

If people needed any more proof of del Mundo's dedication to her work, look no further than the fact that she continued working as a pediatrician even when she was in her 90s, which speaks of incredible devotion on her part.

8. Buried in the Heroes' Cemetery

As a result, it is no wonder that del Mundo is buried in the Heroes' Cemetery, which started out as a place for Filipino military personnel who fell in the fighting during World War Two but went on to become the Philippines's official burial place for its most prominent politicians, artists, scientists, and other figures of renown and respect.

9. Developed a Treatment for Diarrhea for Children

Generally speaking, diarrhea isn't seen as a particularly dangerous medical condition. However, it is capable of killing its victims through severe dehydration in serious cases. One of del Mundo's many, many contributions to medicine was the invention of a well-known diarrhea treatment called BRAT that uses bananas, rice, apples, and tea for children, which was particularly important because children are much more susceptible to potential issues than healthy adults.

10. Had a Very Positive Attitude

Personality-wise, it is interesting to note that del Mundo had a very positive attitude. This can be seen in how she believed that doing her best would result in the best coming back to her, which is a great attitude that can produce positive results under a wide range of circumstances in a wide range of contexts.

Allen Lee

Written by Allen Lee

Allen Lee is a Toronto-based freelance writer who studied business in school but has since turned to other pursuits. He spends more time than is perhaps wise with his eyes fixed on a screen either reading history books, keeping up with international news, or playing the latest releases on the Steam platform, which serve as the subject matter for much of his writing output. Currently, Lee is practicing the smidgen of Chinese that he picked up while visiting the Chinese mainland in hopes of someday being able to read certain historical texts in their original language.

Read more posts by Allen Lee

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