Mary McDonald: A heart for Le Bonheur

Published On 10/16/2016

When Mary McDonald was 60 years old, she had a stroke. Her doctors were baffled – the healthy superintendent of Memphis Catholic Schools wasn’t a typical candidate for a stoke.

When they looked a little deeper, doctors found that Mary as born with a hole in her heart that needed to be repaired surgically. Her cardiologist didn’t have experience repairing the congenital heart defect typically found in children, so he recommended Le Bonheur Pediatric Cardiologist Rush Waller, MD.

“I probably should have died nine years ago. But here I am. Dr. Waller did an amazing job,” Mary said.

Mary was one of Waller’s first adult congenital heart patients. While the a majority of patients  with Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) are diagnosed in infancy, some like Mary can go undetected until later in life.


While Waller has cared for adults with congenital defects for years, Le Bonheur recently formalized this program with the Adult Congenital Heart Disease (ACHD) Center. The ACHD Center – a partnership between Methodist University Hospital, the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Le Bonheur – ensures that adults living with complex congenital heart disease receive lifelong care from a cardiologist who is specially trained to care for their unique issues.

“When I read that Dr. Waller is now working with adults, I thought to myself, ‘Thank God. Now all of us adults who have this issue have this same opportunity.’ I’ve always admired Dr. Waller,” Mary said.

Prior to retiring in 2012, Mary served 37 years as a teacher, principal and superintendent for Memphis catholic Schools. She’s known for re-opening eight inner-city Jubilee Schools. Before retiring, Mary started an educational consulting firm. Mary, 71, continues to advocate for children. As a lifelong educator, Mary sees Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital as a partner in raising this community’s children.

“I care so much about Le Bonheur because it’s a hospital first and foremost for children. You can’t teach children if they are sick,” Mary said. “I think Le Bonheur is such a treasure, and

I want everyone to know how important Le Bonheur is to the health and well-being of this community.”