Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight

Martin Eichelberger ’67 founded a nonprofit organization, Safe Kids Worldwide, in 1987.

October 10, 2007:

PROFILE - Martin Eichelberger ’67
Preventing childhood injuries

As a pediatric surgeon, Martin Eichelberger ’67 has made a career operating on children with life-threatening injuries. He also has been trying to put doctors like himself out of work.

Eichelberger directs the trauma and burn center at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and he leads Safe Kids Worldwide (www.safekids.org), a nonprofit he started in 1987 to prevent accidental injuries to children. The organization grew out of Eichelberger’s frustration as he built his hospital’s trauma program.

“In spite of the fact that we had the best [medical] team you could have ... kids were still dying,” says Eichelberger. The solution, he realized, wasn’t better hospitals or doctors — it was promoting safety and research-based public policy. “That was a totally different paradigm for me,” says the surgeon who is called “Dr. Ike” by his young patients. “I’d spent all my career learning about hospitals. I really didn’t know anything about politics.”

Safe Kids conducts research on childhood risks — from car accidents to house fires — and promotes prevention methods. The group also advocates for improved child-safety laws and regulations, and distributes to families lifesaving devices such as car seats and smoke alarms. Supported since its inception by Johnson & Johnson, Safe Kids has grown into a coalition of hundreds of organizations in 16 countries. In Safe Kids’ 20 years, the death rate from injury among U.S. children has fallen 45 percent, saving nearly 40,000 kids from fatal car accidents, drowning, poisoning, and other hazards. For society, there’s an economic benefit as well. Every $1 spent on a bike helmet saves $31 in health-care costs, according to a study conducted by Children’s Safety Network, a federally funded research group.

“These are very simple, very low-tech, low-cost solutions that are much better than the high-tech solutions that we try to implement in the hospital — that don’t work,” Eichelberger says. Without overinsulating children and hindering their development, he adds, parents can be educated “that there are things that they can do to make sure their kids will be alive tomorrow.” P

By Massie Ritsch ’98

Massie Ritsch ’98 is the communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington, D.C.