Margaret Hegarty, champion of children’s health in Harlem, dies at 88

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Dr. Hegarty once wrote, “There are times when my children look more like a battlefield than a pediatric unit.”

But if taking care of the kids of Harlem was a battle, she was an incredible fighter.

She helped lower the hospital’s infant mortality rate to New York City standards. To care for children with AIDS, she along with Msgr. Tom Leonard, Sister Una McCormack, and real estate developer and philanthropist Jack Rudin founded the Avatar Children’s Center. She also established a network of five neighborhood satellite health clinics in Harlem and a group home for HIV-infected children.

In 1989, she took Princess Diana on a tour of the hospital’s pediatric AIDS unit, an event depicted in the Netflix series “The Crown”. The princess was quoted as saying, “When you have a problem with drugs, how do you deal with AIDS?”

Her response, Dr. Nichols recalled, was, “It’s bad enough to be a deadly disease, but with poverty and drugs, you have a really bad problem. It’s easy to say that these mothers are irresponsible, but Yet I have seen them cry over their dying children.These mothers love their children the way you love your little princes.

In 1993, Dr. Hegarty, who was also a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, received a $100,000 Ronald McDonald House Charity Award. He donated it to the pediatrics unit of Harlem Hospital.

Dr Hegarty never married. In addition to Mr. Bergen, her survivors include several nieces and nephews.

Dr Hegarty’s strategy may be unorthodox, his method blunt. Dr. Nichols recalled that when Dr. Hegarty was chairman of the hospital’s medical board from 1992 to 1995, he strongly disagreed with a new department director, who was Black.

The director turned to Columbia Dean, Dr. Nichols remembered, and asked, “Is Dr. Hegarty a racist?”

“Oh, no,” replied Dean. “Dr. Hegarty is not racist. She treats everyone the same.

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