Four female nurses wearing white uniforms with a small child in the middle, looking at the camera

Photo: Cleveland Clinic Archives | Colorized by Sanna Dullaway

Madeleine Bebout had no parents … and many parents. Orphaned at age 4, she seemed destined for a short, tragic life. In 1922, the young Cleveland girl fell into a diabetic coma. Just a few years earlier, this would have been a death sentence. But Cleveland Clinic physician Henry John, MD, a Czech immigrant who pioneered the intravenous use of glucose, saved her life with an injection of insulin. Madeleine was the first child to receive insulin in Cleveland and one of the first children with diabetes in the world to benefit from the lifesaving treatment.

She was informally adopted by three Cleveland Clinic staff nurses — Elizabeth Berkey, Myra Cassell and Jane Swanson — and Dr. John became her legal guardian. She lived in the Oxley Homes complex on East 93rd Street, where Dr. John and the nurses oversaw Madeleine’s medical treatment. When she turned 8, she got her own nursing uniform. The precocious child wore it not only to “treat” her dolls for various ailments, but also to reassure real-life patients before operations. Madeleine went on to live well into middle age.