Two years before I was born, Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children opened in 1928. My mother was their first intern and admitted the very first patient.
As the daughter of Dr. Leila Denmark, Egleston is one of the few places I can vividly remember as a child in the 1930s. My mother was the first female pediatrician in Atlanta and continued to work with the hospital in some form or fashion for more than half a century. I would go to work with her sometimes and play outside in the gardens while she tended to her patients.
My mother was different because she always focused on the cause of an illness, never just treating the symptoms. She spent hours talking to parents about proper nutrition, prevention of illness, good parental guidance and discipline of the growing child. She believed that the most important thing that a child can have is good parents.
Antibiotics weren’t even available back then. There were antiseptics and home remedies, but nothing too advanced or high-tech. She had awfully keen eyes and an awfully keen mind to help her diagnose patients.
She also was a strong believer in immunization and urged parents to have their children vaccinated. My mother became determined to find a vaccine for whooping cough (pertussis) after a family with triplets lost the babies to this infection. She worked with Eli Lilly to develop and test the pertussis vaccine. Over the past 75 years, the vaccine has undoubtedly saved thousands of lives of young children.
Whenever my parents would travel, Mother would take along writing pads to get her thoughts down on paper. Once she had a four-inch stack of pages, she said, “Let’s make this into a book.” Her handwriting was dreadful. Not only was she left-handed, but she really didn’t believe much in the way of punctuation. Needless to say, the editing and the transcribing of this book took a long time. In the early 1970s she published the book containing her thoughts on the care and rearing of children entitled Every Child Should Have a Chance.
As an editor and proofreader, I helped with a complete overhaul of the book in 1982. Every Child Should Have a Chance has sold thousands of copies and continues to be requested by both families who were patients of my mother and by complete strangers who have heard of her. In fact, her book has found distribution in countries and cultures around the world, purchased by people who are looking for no-nonsense parenting advice. All profits, beyond the cost of printing and shipping, are donated to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
I spoke at my mother’s funeral three years ago and showed everyone her book. On a blank page before the title page she wrote, “Do what you can to help.” That was the motto she lived by: “Every child should have a chance. Do what you can to help.” She left money in her will to fund a scholarship to continue education for doctors at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to ensure the best care for the next generation and hopefully generations to come.