“He who saves a life saves the world,” is an old Hebrew proverb. And that is especially true for grieving parents who have watched their children at the edge of death returned to full health and their world made whole again. All it takes is for one person willing to do the right thing. The story of Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth is how two people without any medical training worked to create a hospital respected around the globe and has saved countless lives since.


While Texas had a number of hospitals established by the beginning of the 20th century, there were few dedicated solely to children’s medicine. Ida L. Turner had completed a respected tenure as a postmaster, a prestigious position for a woman at the time, and wanted to do still more for the community. Wanting to make up for serious deficiencies in medical care for newborns, she organized the 30-bed Fort Worth Free Baby Hospital in March 1918. Turner made sure that the hospital would provide care for anyone, regardless of circumstances and regardless of ability to pay. All materials and supplies were donated through Turner’s efforts. By 1922, the hospital was expanded as Fort Worth Children’s Hospital, with a new floor added and services extended to older children. In spite of the success of the hospital, it struggled financially.


At the same time, Missouri Matilda Cook was looking for a proper way to honor her late husband and daughter. William I. Cook had been a prominent rancher near Albany, not far from Abilene. Their daughter Jessie died in 1901, while the elder Cook died in 1923 after a fortune in oil was subsequently found at the ranch. His widowed wife gave $1 million to build an ornate, 55-bed hospital in Fort Worth, christened W. I. Cook Memorial Hospital. The new hospital opened with much fanfare in 1929. Cook died in 1932, leaving most of her estate to the facility.


In 1951, the W. I. Cook Foundation and the Tom B. Owens Foundation made a substantial donation to Fort Worth Children’s Hospital to help it build a new facility. As a polio epidemic swept through the area, both Cook Hospital and Fort Worth Children’s were overwhelmed. In 1952, Cook Hospital decided to expand to 72 beds and focus solely on children as Cook Children’s Hospital and added rehabilitation equipment for polio patients.


By 1961, Fort Worth Children’s Hospital moved away from its original location near Texas Christian University to its present location across the street from Harris Methodist Hospital, which had opened in 1930. In the meantime, both Cook Children’s and Fort Worth Children’s worked closely together. By 1980, officials at both hospitals decided they could best serve their patients by combining resources and merging into one large hospital. A newly-formed board facilitated this merger, which was completed in 1985.


The hospitals were consolidated at the Fort Worth Children’s Hospital campus and construction on a modern, expanded facility for what was now Cook-Fort Worth Children’s Hospital began in 1987. The 183-bed expansion was completed in 1989, which included a skybridge connecting it to Harris Methodist Hospital and eventually an interior décor that resembled a castle to help put children more at ease.


The name eventually became Cook Children’s Hospital. Since 2001, the hospital has invested more than $100 million in new facilities, expanded care, and the latest equipment. The hospital now has 443 beds at its main campus in Fort Worth and has expanded to include an outpatient hospital in neighboring Hurst which opened in 2004. The system employs more than 200 doctors. The staff routinely deals with situations from injuries to psychological conditions to cancer treatment to premature births and complications from childbirth. The Teddy Bear Transport team includes a staff of 62, two planes, five ambulances, and a helicopter to transport the most critical patients from hundreds of miles away. A system of urgent care clinics and specialty clinics are now strung across North Texas and are as far away as Midland and San Angelo. The hospital works with doctors and patients in other nations and has brought in patients from the far corners of the world.


Disease and suffering are not conditions that must necessarily haunt childhood. The hospital begun by two people trying to alleviate the pain and misery of others has made tremendous strides in ending that affliction, most certainly for the thousands of young patients treated there for its century of existence. For the doctors, nurses, and technicians at Cook Children’s, the healing mission has been advanced by providing the most cutting-edge research and technology. For the children arriving as patients and their parents, it has provided hope.


Personal note: In 2002, the doctors and nurses of Cook Children’s Hospital saved the life of the author’s newborn son Kaleb.


Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at drkenbridges@gmail.com.