Margaret Heagarty, Harlem child health champion, dies aged 88
“Sometimes my wards look more like a battlefield than a children’s ward,” wrote Dr. Heagarty once.
But when taking care of Harlem’s children was a struggle, she was a relentless fighter.
She helped bring the hospital’s infant mortality rate down to the New York norm. To care for children living with AIDS, she along with Msgr. Tom Leonard, Sister Una McCormack and real estate developer and philanthropist Jack Rudin founded the Incarnation Children’s Center. She also built a network of five satellite neighborhood health clinics in Harlem and a group home for HIV-infected children.
In 1989, she accompanied Princess Diana on a tour of the hospital’s pediatric AIDS unit, an event featured on the Netflix series The Crown. The princess was quoted as asking, “If you have a problem with drugs, how on earth do you deal with AIDS?”
Her answer, recalled Dr. Nicholas, was: “It’s bad enough having a terminal illness, but poverty and drugs are a very bad problem indeed. It’s easy to say that these mothers are irresponsible, yet I have seen them grieve for their dying children. These mothers love their children just like you love your little princes.”
In 1993 Dr. Heagarty, who was also a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, a $100,000 Ronald McDonald House Charities Award. She donated it to the Children’s Ward at Harlem Hospital.
dr Heagarty never married. In addition to Mr Burgan, her survivors include several nieces and nephews.
dr Heagarty’s strategy could be unorthodox, her manner blunt. dr Nicholas recalled that Dr. Heagarty, when she was president of the hospital’s medical board from 1992 to 1995, strongly disagreed with a new department head who was black.
The director approached a dean of Columbia, recalled Dr. Nicholas, and asked, “Is Dr. Heagarty racist?”
“Oh no,” replied the Dean. “DR. Heagarty is not racist. She treats everyone that way.”