From Fragile Patient to Renowned Chef
How Two Pioneering Doctors Saved Jon Bonnell’s Life
More than 40 years later, the memory of an early morning phone call still makes William (Bill) Scroggie, M.D., tear up.
It was 1972, and on the other end of the line was a nurse. She connected Dr. Scroggie with surgeon Dick Ellis, M.D. The news about a 2-year-old patient was not good.
“I’ll never forget it,” Dr. Scroggie said. “It was about 2 in the morning. Dick said, ‘Bill, I think Jon might die.’ I came out of that bed so fast and raced to the hospital. Jon’s dad, Bill, was a good friend of mine and I was being told his son was going to die.”
Dr. Scroggie chokes back the tears at the thought. “But Jon didn’t die,” he said. “He was a tough kid. But boy it was nip and tuck there for a while.”
That 2-year-old child became a Fort Worth legend and an internationally known chef, who includes three stints cooking at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City, winning Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence every year since 2004 and having one of the highest Zagat ratings in the state of Texas. But before all the fame and Bonnell’s Restaurant Group, he was a toddler fighting for his life in the capable hands of a pioneering surgeon and a legendary pediatrician.
“It was life threatening,” Dr. 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.”
Young Jon was showing symptoms of a virus going around at the time that other babies in the area were experiencing. Jon’s mother, D’Ann Walsh Bonnell, called Dr. Scroggie’s office and was told to keep an eye on her child but it was probably nothing out of the ordinary. By the next morning, things had taken a serious turn for the worse.
Bonnell was rushed to Fort Worth Children’s (prior to the Cook Children’s merger), where he was diagnosed with a serious condition called intussusception, in which part of the intestines slide into an adjacent part of the intestines. The “telescoping” effect blocks food or fluid from passing through. Intussusception cuts off the blood supply to the part of the intestine that’s affected, causing an infection and the death of bowel tissue. The bowel can die (gangrene) in a spot and then a little hole develops. Bowel contents “leak” into the peritoneal cavity causing peritonitis.
“We had a real emergency on our hands,” Dr. Scroggie said. “This is where Dick Ellis comes in. 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.”
The landscape of medical care in the early 1970s was much different than the expertise found at Cook Children’s today. While there weren’t many pediatricians in the area, Dr. Ellis was the first fellowship-trained pediatric surgeon in Tarrant County and was one of about 50 pediatric surgeons in the entire country.
“We were all super busy,” Dr. Scroggie said. “But I’ll tell you what. Jon had our full attention. Twenty-four hours a day. It was a tense time, but he was a tough kid.”
At the time, the hospitals didn’t have a pediatric intensive care unit like Cook Children’s has now. So Dr. Ellis decided to create a makeshift ICU.
“I commandeered a room at the hospital, right next to Jon’s room and slept there that night,” Dr. 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 spent more than two months in the hospital. Dr. Scroggie and his team then followed the young patient’s progress as Bonnell returned to good health.
Along with the initial surgery and two follow-up surgeries over the course of two months, Bonnell received intravenous nutrition, fluids and antibiotics while hospitalized.
“And then, we prayed. It was pretty scary,” Dr. Scroggie said. “It’s hard to believe he went through so much when you see how Jon looks now. He runs and swims, doing marathons and Ironman triathlons. But boy he was a skinny wasted little thing at the low point of that whole deal.”
For Bonnell, his time in the hospital is mostly a collection of stories that have been passed down from his family through the years. But he does have a constant reminder that he was a very sick little boy. A scar remains on the right side of his neck where an intravenous (IV) nutrition tube was placed for him to receive nutrients, and a larger scar runs from hip to hip across 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.”
Years later, Bonnell has remained a supporter of Cook Children’s. He sits on 15 different boards and he says many of those have some kind of a fundraiser leading back to Cook Children’s.
“I always got the feeling that Cook Children’s was special because my parents said, ‘Even as sick as you were it didn’t feel like a hospital. You didn’t seem like you were out of place,’” Bonnell said. “There were always toys. There was always somebody there to make you smile. To make you laugh. It felt like a different kind of place.”
And it still does more than 40 years later.
Dick Ellis M.D.
Dr. Ellis literally wrote the book on Cook Children’s. He wrote “W.I. Cook Children’s Hospital: The Middle Years” in 2010. The book is a history lesson of the pediatricians, trustees, volunteers, surgeons and more who helped make Cook Children’s what it is today.
Dr. Ellis was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma on April 24, 1928. He was chief of surgery and medical and dental staff president at both Fort Worth children’s hospitals in the 1970s and 1980s.
In 1982, the medical and dental staffs of the two children’s hospitals merged, two years ahead of the Trustees’ merger with Dr. Ellis as medical and dental staff president. Dr. Ellis, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, also served on the Ad Hoc Committee for merger and on the ByLaws Committee to develop fresh Bylaws.
Because of the necessity to see newborns in nurseries, Dr. Ellis was on staff at all Tarrant County hospitals.
Dr. Ellis earned his M.D. at the Baylor College of Medicine in 1952. He interned 12 months and had one year of surgical training at the St. Louis City Hospital (Number One) before entering the United States Air Force. He was the commander of the 3911th USAF dispensary in London, England.
This allowed Dr. Ellis and his wife, Kay, to travel extensively in Western Europe. Later he would serve as ship doctor on 20 small ship trips, so that he and his wife had visited all of the continents and more than 100 countries. Half of those trips were on SEACLOUD, the legendary four-mated barque built for EF Hutton and Marjorie M. Post, the cereal heiress.
Dr. Ellis was president of the Texas Society of Pediatric Surgeons in 1973. He was a member of the Texas Pediatric Society, the Texas Surgical Association and the Texas Medical Association. He’s a fellow of the American College of Surgeons.
He says his proudest professional accomplishment was to be elected president of the American Pediatric Surgical Association for the 1992-1993 term, an office to which no other Texas pediatric surgeon has been nominated. Dr. Ellis’ two opponents were the chiefs of surgery at Yale University and James W. Riley Children’s Hospital.
“That means all the pediatric surgeons in the USA and Canada voted for me and that all my peers know me and think well of me,” Dr. Ellis said.
Dr. Ellis and his wife now have one son and one daughter and still reside in Fort Worth.
William Beal Scroggie, M.D.
Dr. Bill Scroggie was born in Dallas on Sept 2, 1939. His father was Dr. Val Scroggie, a Fort Worth general practitioner. Dr. Scroggie moved to Fort Worth at the age of 4 years old and graduated from RL Paschal High School in 1957. He attended the University of Texas at Austin from 1957 to 1960 and was at the Southwestern Medical Branch of the University of Texas in Dallas from 1960 to 1964.
He married Linda Marie Lawrence on Dec. 30, 1962, in Fort Worth. He received his M.D. in June 1964 and was a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) Society, which means he was in the Top 10 percent of his class. He served his internship and pediatric residency at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., from 1964 to 1967. He was a captain in the U.S. Air Force at March AFB Hospital in Riverside, Calif. from 1967 to 1969. He was certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in 1969.
Dr. Scroggie opened his solo office in 1969 on Henderson Street just off Rosedale in Fort Worth. Dr. Scroggie used Cook Children's "frequently," admitting "medical cases of all types." He remembers the "nurses were great."
Dr. Scroggie was on the board of trustees at Fort Worth Children's Hospital, and his friends on the board relied on his counsel regarding medical state affairs.
Celebrating Cook Children's Centennial
Cook Children's is turning 100 and will be celebrating all year! Don't miss out on the fun throughout 2018. Enjoy unique stories, parades, special guests, and community events across Fort Worth. We hope that you can share in some our celebrations because you're the 1 in our 100!