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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

One of the side benefits – heck, it may be the main benefit – of my job is that you get to meet some great people.

To be fair, you also get to meet some not-so-great people. The junkyard owner in Grand Prairie who threatened to “go get my shotgun,” if I didn’t stop watching a fire burn near his establishment would fall in that category. That’s what you get for covering a fire, I guess.

One of those great people I’ve met is Dr. Dick Ellis, a now retired physician who – upon his arrival in July 1965 – was Tarrant County’s first pediatric surgeon.

In his long and distinguished career, Ellis has sewn up thousands of cuts, removed hundreds of tumors and intestinal obstructions, and fixed all kinds of complex congenital defects. And, though retired, he stays active both in his profession and in the community. He is a longtime member of the Wednesday Wine Committee at the Fort Worth Club, for instance.

And he’s a great storyteller. That’s a good thing, because he’s got a lot of stories, many of which he tells in his book, W.I. Cook Children’s Hospital: The Middle Years.

Aside from his role in Fort Worth as a physician, Ellis has served as ship’s doctor on many cruises. That, too, has resulted in many stories.

So I was somewhat surprised when he pointed me to a story I did not know.

Thankfully, the story is now told on Cook Children’s website, part of a collection of 100 stories the institution has collected as part of its celebration of 100 years serving the community.

It was 1972 and Ellis called Dr. William Scroggie about a 2-year-old patient. The news was not good.

The patient? None other than a boy who would become a well-known Fort Worth chef as head of the Bonnell’s Restaurant Group, Jon Bonnell.

“It was life-threatening,” Ellis said. “Little 2-year-olds are very fragile. I wanted Dr. Scroggie to know how sick Jon was. Jon tells me all the time I saved his life. I don’t know that we save lives, particularly. I think sometimes we make a difference. But if I ever did save a life in Fort Worth, it was Jon’s.”

Bonnell had symptoms similar to that of a virus then going around, but things were turning worse and he was rushed to Fort Worth Children’s Hospital. This was prior to the Cook Children’s merger.

The doctors diagnosed Bonnell with a serious, life-threating condition called intussusception, which can cause peritonitis.

“This is where Dick Ellis comes in,” Scroggie said. “He was able to open Jon up and find the dead part of the intestinal track. Without Dr. Ellis’ surgical expertise I don’t think the outcome would have been as good. Jon was darn lucky. If he had been anywhere other than Fort Worth at the time, I don’t know if he would have made it. At that point in time, Dr. Ellis’ expertise was rare.”

It was 1972 and there weren’t many pediatricians in the area. Ellis was the first fellowship-trained pediatric surgeon in Tarrant County and was one of about 50 pediatric surgeons in the entire country.

Hospitals then didn’t have pediatric intensive care units, so Ellis created one.

“I commandeered a room at the hospital, right next to Jon’s room and slept there that night,” Ellis said. “Every hour on the hour the nurses woke me up and I went in and checked his urinary output and adjusted his fluids. I did a few other lab tests. In other words, I was his ICU doctor and I stayed with him until the next day when he turned the corner.”

Bonnell’s stay at the hospital lasted more than two months. There were a couple of follow-up surgeries. He doesn’t remember his time there, though others do. He does have a scar on the right side of his neck where an intravenous tube was placed, as well as one on his abdomen.

“The story has been told so many times I’m not sure exactly what happened and what didn’t,” Bonnell said. “The only part I really remember is when I got out of the hospital. I remember being home for Christmas. I’ve got an older brother and an older sister and I remember getting Christmas presents, but not being strong enough to open them up and my brother and sister being so nice that they would come over and open presents for me. They would just set them there, you know like a little stuffed lion. I got to ride in a classic red wagon and they pulled me around the house because I didn’t have the strength to do much of anything that Christmas.”

See what I mean about great people?

Thanks to Cook Children’s for the quotes in the story.

For more on the story:

www.cookchildrens.org/centennial/story-chef-bonnell.html

(Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press)

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