By Leila Salaverria
MANILA, Philippines - Acclaimed pediatrician Fe del Mundo blazed trails in medicine, research and humanitarian work but skirted the traditional path of settling down and raising a family.
Nevertheless, she became a mother to countless children to whom she ministered with expert care and enduring love.
Del Mundo, who turned 99 Saturday, has built a legacy of excellence in pediatrics and tireless dedication to children, devoting not only her whole heart to the endeavor but her soul as well, as her niece Elisa Bengzon put it.
"Why only love with your heart when you can put your whole soul into it?" Bengzon said in attempting to sum up the essence of her aunt's passion.
This passion is celebrated in the coffee table book "Dr. Fe del Mundo: A Beautiful Life," which was launched Saturday at Dr. Fe del Mundo Medical Center in Banawe, Quezon City.
The proceeds from the sale of the book are to be used to purchase CT scan and endoscopy machines for the hospital.
The book, with the subtitle "A Life Devoted to the Filipino Child," portrays Del Mundo as "renaissance woman"-a brilliant student, a highly regarded physician, an enthusiastic dancer, a patriotic Filipino, a woman of strong faith and a source of inspiration to many.
"Such a beautiful life-she's a legend, an icon, the brightest star in the field of pediatric medicine-deserves to be documented," Bengzon told the Inquirer.
The book narrates how Del Mundo decided to study medicine to fulfill the ambition of a sister who died young, and how she chose to focus on pediatrics after seeing many coffins bearing children being borne down the streets of Marinduque province.
In a quote on the book's back cover, Del Mundo herself speaks of the value of giving one's all to what one does: "I believe that if you give the world the best that you can, the best will always come back to you."
Harvard med school
Del Mundo's path toward becoming a physician was marked by stellar achievements: She received an associate in arts degree from the University of the Philippines at 17, graduated valedictorian from the UP College of Medicine and placed third in the national medical board exams.
She is the first Filipino woman to be accepted for postgraduate training at Harvard Medical School in 1936, through a scholarship from President Manuel Quezon. This was over a decade before Ivy League school began accepting female medical students.
She also trained at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, Billings Hospital in Chicago, Boston Children's Hospital and Boston University.
She could have pursued a lucrative career in the United States but she came home in 1941, nurturing a dream to build a children's hospital.
During the Japanese Occupation, Del Mundo cared for the children of allied nationals who were prisoners of war and later put up Children's Home. She also became the director of Manila Children's Hospital, the first woman to head a government general hospital in the country.
Initially, she set up Little Clinic on Mendiola, a three-room affair.
But she had so many patients that she needed a bigger place. In 1954, after she sold her home, the construction of the hospital that would be renamed after her began.