Biography of Fe del Mundo, Noted Filipino Pediatrician

The BRAT diet creator founded a hospital in the Philippines

The Dr. Fe Del Mundo Medical Center in the Philippines

Burtdc/Wikimedia Commons/CC0 1.0

Fe Del Mundo (Nov. 27, 1911–Aug. 6, 2011) is credited with studies that led to the invention of an improved incubator and a device to treat jaundice. Along with pioneering work in pediatrics, she had an active medical practice in the Philippines that spanned eight decades and founded a major children's hospital in that country.

Fast Facts: Fe Del Mundo

  • Known For: Conducted studies that led to the invention of an improved incubator and a device to treat jaundice. She also founded a major children's hospital in the Philippines and created the BRAT diet.
  • Also Known As: Fe Villanueva del Mundo, Fé Primitiva del Mundo y Villanueva
  • Born: Nov. 27, 1911 in Manila, Philippines
  • Parents: Paz (née Villanueva) and Bernardo del Mundo
  • Died: Aug. 6, 2011 in Quezon City, Philippines
  • Education: UP College of Medicine (original campus of the University of the Philippines) in Manila (1926–1933, medical degree), Boston University School of Medicine (Master of Science in Bacteriology, 1940), Harvard Medical School's Children's Hospital (1939–1941, two-year research fellowship)
  • Published Works: Textbook of Pediatrics and Child Health (1982), she also authored more than 100 articles, reviews, and reports published in medical journals
  • Awards and Honors: National Scientist of the Philippines, Elizabeth Blackwell Award for Outstanding Service to Mankind (1966), Ramon Magsaysay Award for Outstanding Public Service (1977), named Outstanding Pediatrician and Humanitarian by the International Pediatric Association (1977)
  • Notable Quote: “I told the Americans who wanted me to stay that I prefer to go home and help the children. I know that with my training for five years at Harvard and different medical institutions in America, I can do much.”

Early Years and Education

Del Mundo was born in Manila on Nov. 27, 1911. She was the sixth of eight children. Her father Bernardo served one term in the Philippine Assembly, representing the province of Tayabas. Three of her eight siblings died in infancy, while an older sister died from appendicitis at age 11. It was the death of her older sister, who had made known her desire to become a doctor for the poor, that pushed the young Del Mundo toward the medical profession.

At age 15, Del Mundo entered the University of the Philippines and earned a medical degree with highest honors in 1933. In 1940, she received a master's degree in bacteriology from the Boston University School of Medicine.

Some sources say that Del Mundo was Harvard Medical School's first female medical student. The university itself says that is inaccurate, as Harvard did not admit female medical students at the time and there are no records of Del Mundo attending or graduating. However, Del Mundo did complete a two-year research fellowship at Harvard Medical School's Children's Hospital in 1941.

'The Angel of Santo Tomas'

Del Mundo returned to the Philippines in 1941. She joined the International Red Cross and volunteered to care for children-internees at the University of Santo Tomas internment camp for foreign nationals. She established a makeshift hospice within the internment camp and became known as "The Angel of Santo Tomas."

After the Japanese authorities shut down the hospice in 1943, Del Mundo was asked by Manila's mayor to head a children's hospital under the auspices of the city government. The hospital was later converted into a full-care medical center to cope with the increasing casualties during the Battle of Manila and would be renamed the North General Hospital. Del Mundo would remain the hospital's director until 1948.

Del Mundo later became the director of the Department of Pediatrics at Far Eastern University and her breakthroughs in research surrounding infant care led to commonly practiced methods worldwide—including the BRAT diet, which cures diarrhea.

Del Mundo Opens Hospital

Frustrated by the bureaucratic constraints in working for a government hospital, Del Mundo wanted to establish her own pediatric hospital. She sold her home and got a loan to finance the construction of her own hospital.

The Children's Medical Center, a 100-bed hospital located in Quezon City, was inaugurated in 1957 as the first pediatric hospital in the Philippines. The hospital was expanded in 1966 through the establishment of an Institute of Maternal and Child Health, the first institution of its kind in Asia.

Later Years and Death

Having sold her home to finance the medical center, del Mundo chose to reside on the second floor of the hospital itself. She retained her living quarters at the hospital, rising daily and continuing to make her daily rounds, even though she was wheelchair-bound in her later years.

Del Mundo died at age 99 on Aug. 6, 2011, in Quezon City, Philippines.

Legacy

Del Mundo's accomplishments are still remembered years after her death. The hospital she founded is still open and now bears her name, the Fe Del Mundo Medical Center.

In November 2018, Del Mundo was honored with a Google doodle. Under the doodle, which the search engine site displays occasionally on its home page to honor various notable individuals, Google added the caption: "Del Mundo's choice to specialize in pediatrics may have been shaped by the loss of 3 siblings, who died as infants during her childhood in Manila."

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