A citizen of the Netherlands, Hendrika was born in Berlin, Germany, but the family moved to Zurich, Switzerland to escape the war and the horrors of Germany in the 1930’s. Hendrika’s older sister Annie was studying medicine in Holland in 1940 when the Nazis bombed Rotterdam, and occupied Holland for six months. Annie persuaded Nazi officials for a visa so she could rejoin her family in Zurich. After the family reunited, they migrated to the United States. It was a tough journey, as Hendrika’s brother was of military age. They reached New York after traveling upon a ship whose next voyage was sank by the Nazis.
When Hendrika reached the age of nineteen, she graduated from Barnard College in New York. Influenced by her sister, she aspired to become a pediatrician. She attended the University of Rochester Medical School and completed her pediatric internship at Buffalo Children’s Hospital in New York. Midway through medical school, Hendrika married William Cantwell, a law student. The couple decided on Denver due to the nearby ski slopes. They had a two sons and a daughter.
In 1954, Dr. Cantwell began working part-time in school immunization and well baby clinics. In 1967, Hendrika accepted a full-time post in a Neighborhood Health Station in Children’s Hospital. She taught a new pediatric nurse practitioner program and instructed nursing and medical school students and pediatric residents. In recognition of her ongoing lecturing, writing, and teaching, the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center appointed her a clinical professor of pediatrics.
Hendrika served on a committee called by Mayor Bill McNichols in 1973 to investigate the highly publicized death of a child. Dr. C. Henry Kempe, founder of the Kempe National Center for Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect was quoted in the Denver Post as charging that the Denver Department of Social Services had caused the child’s death by mishandling its cases. In February 1975, Hendrika agreed to take the post of a physician for Denver Social Services after it was turned down by others for being too depressing. She helped them establish a Family Services Center. Her public appointment helped increase public awareness of child abuse causing the caseloads to soar in numbers.
She started the first court-ordered parenting classes to help abusive and neglectful parents. After retiring in 1984, Social Services asked her to consult, advise, and teach in all Colorado counties. She is a recognized speaker on parenting.
Hendrika retained her positions at Denver Health and Hospitals and as clinical professor at the Colorado Medical School.