He earned first-team All-Ivy status in two sports at Princeton and his son became All-Ivy as well. But Dr. Martin Eichelberger's crowning achievement was founding Safe Kids Worldwide.
For pediatric surgeon and Safe Kids Worldwide founder Marty Eichelberger, everything changed when "sometime in 1962" he tuned into a telecast of ABC's Wide World of Sports Army-Navy lacrosse game.
For Eichelberger, then a high school student in Abington, Pa., the response was immediate. "I want to play that game," he remembers thinking to himself.
The problem was the school he attended, Abington Senior High School, didn't have a lacrosse team. So he helped found one. "The first year we learned the game by watching Penn play" he says, with an Abington High coach and a local volunteer who knew the game explaining it to Eichelberger and his teammates. The next year they played.
Meanwhile a local Princeton alum and former football player, Dr. Penn Laird, noticed Eichelberger's play on the football field. "He started talking to me about Princeton," Eichelberger recalls, but more importantly acted as a role model. "He had all the traits I wanted," so Eichelberger applied and was accepted. "I was surprised I got into Princeton," he says, and "was in awe at the opportunity," turning down a lacrosse scholarship to Johns Hopkins to attend.
Playing football and lacrosse, Eichelberger found academics "very difficult. The coaches understood we were there to be students." As a pre-med student he "had lab almost every afternoon and got to practice late, but it was never held against me." Even so "I wouldn't have been able to it without the reading period [before final exams]. It was a godsend. I'd be in Firestone Library catching up."
One place where he wasn't catching up was on the athletic fields. In football Eichelberger lettered twice and was a first team All-Ivy pick in 1965. In lacrosse, playing midfielder, he helped Princeton to Ivy titles in two out of his three varsity seasons, earning All-American and All-Ivy first team honors in 1966. As team captain Eichelberger led Princeton to an Ivy title in 1967 -- it would not earn another until 1992.
For Eichelberger one obstacle loomed academically -- the thesis. "I had to work like a dog to get it done," he says. His topic was the circadian rhythms of the Drosophila (fruit fly), and Graduate School Dean Colin S. Pittendrigh supervised his work. "It was an opportunity to interact with a top professor," he remembers, "he would spend three to four hours each Sunday going over our data. I was in awe of this guy's ability to think through problems."
After medical school at Hahneman University, Eichelberger became chief surgery resident at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "I noticed there was no interest in injuries to kids," he remembers, "accidents were a leading cause of death. The question was how to have a trauma center for kids."
He began work in this area with the support of his mentor, future U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop. He became Director of Emergency Trauma Services at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in 1981. "We implemented an excellent developmental model," he says, and "in five years we were providing the best trauma care in the world."
"In spite of this kids were still dying. We need some kind of intervention -- how could we get the public to understand the need for prevention?" In response Eichelberger founded Safe Kids Worldwide, an organization devoted to reducing unintentional childhood injury. It has promoted numerous safety initiatives, ranging from promoting car child safety seat use to sports injury reduction. Since its founding in 1987 the United States has experienced a 45 percent reduction in fatalities from childhood accidents, and Safe Kids can claim much of the credit for this reduction.
As Chairman Eichelberger has raised more than $80 million for Safe Kids, testified before Congress, and made dozens of media appearances. Safe Kids Worldwide now comprises more than 600 grassroots organizations in all 50 states and 16 countries. "We want to expand in underdeveloped countries," he says. "We're going into China, India, the Czech Republic. Driving in China is increasing, there's going to be dying on the roads. We deal in behavioral vaccines," he explains. "We're inoculating countries' kids so they don't die."
After graduating from Princeton Eichelberger continued to play lacrosse on weekends, and soon accompanying him in an infant seat was son Todd. "We had him playing lacrosse from the time he could walk," he recalls. Todd went on to also play for Princeton, helping the team to three NCAA titles and duplicating his father's All-American and first-team All-Ivy honors before graduating in 1997.
He's currently playing professional lacrosse for the Los Angeles Riptide, and is West Coast Sales/Marketing Manager for Warrior Sports, Inc, a major lacrosse equipment maker. Daughter Lindsay also played lacrosse for Dartmouth, helping them to a share of the 1997 Ivy title, and is currently studying for an MBA there.
Eichelberger wants to work to "continue to develop Safe Kids into a worldwide network." Wherever that leads, he'll continue to apply what he learned at Princeton. "They help you expand your ability to think in a global, abstract way," he says. "They give you the confidence to tackle a problem, not knowing what the answer is."
Eichelberger seems to have mastered that ability pretty well.
— Stephen Eschenbach