Margaret Heagarty, Champion for Children’s Health in Harlem, Dies at 88

Health & Wellbeing

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

But if caring for Harlem’s children was a battle, she was an unrelenting fighter.

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

In 1989, she escorted 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 asking, “When you have a problem with the drugs, how on earth do you deal with AIDS as well?”

Her response, Dr. Nicholas recalled, was: “It is bad enough to have a fatal disease, but with poverty and drugs, you have a very bad problem indeed. It is easy to say that these mothers are irresponsible, but still, I have seen them grieving over their dying children. These mothers love their children the same as you love your little princes.”

In 1993, Dr. Heagarty, who was also a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University, received a Ronald McDonald House Charities award of $100,000. She donated it to the Harlem Hospital pediatrics unit.

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 when Dr. Heagarty was president of the hospital’s medical board from 1992 to 1995, she strongly disagreed with a new department director, who was Black.

The director turned to a Columbia dean, Dr. Nicholas recalled, and asked, “Is Dr. Heagarty racist?”

“Oh, no,” the dean replied. “Dr. Heagarty’s not racist. She treats everyone that way.”

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