How has pediatric surgery – both planned surgery and trauma for children - changed since you’ve become a surgeon?
It’s almost completely different! Over the last 35 years, there have been tremendous advances in ways to help premature and newborn babies. From the life support devices to the ventilators to the operative tools to techniques - we don’t do anything the way we were initially taught. Advances in laparoscopic surgery and ECMO have also been amazing. So many of the things we thought were fact are now not believed to be true. The principles used to perform operations have changed and the way we perform them has changed. This shows how much medicine has advanced and continues to move forward.
When you’re working with and treating people’s children, the emotions and the stakes run high. How do you work to gain their trust?
All mothers are protective, and that’s as it should be. We can’t expect to be trusted until they know us, and that’s why the way we talk and the way we listen makes a huge impact.
When we go to the doctor, we all want to be treated as an individual with importance and value. It’s not just a matter of facts, but getting to know that person and their needs and the needs of their family, and then laying out a surgical plan of care for their child that they can understand.
Our medical system is so complex that it’s critical that we’re ready to explain and communicate over and over, if necessary, so they realize that we genuinely care for their child and want the very best for them.
What has the most rewarding part of pediatric surgery?
It’s the little babies that have had my heart. There are only about 1,000 people in North America that do what I do. This privilege to have the training and skill to do it – to sometimes take children from the brink of death and return them to their families – what greater thing could there be?
It’s also very rewarding when families realize how sick their children were and to know what God’s done for them. To receive cards and letters and photos at Christmas time and at graduations, sometimes 20 years later – that’s what I love.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your specialty?
This isn’t a difficulty unique to physicians – I need to continually remind myself that it isn’t about me; it’s about the other person. I’m a tool used by God, and there’s no reason for me to get frustrated or angry regardless of the circumstances. We all need humility, and we aren’t naturally humble. We all have confrontations in our jobs and relationships, but we need to put others first. If I realize I’m not the center, I’ve done my job to provide the best service possible.
When you look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered?
I’d like to be remembered as someone who tried to do the right thing for every patient. We all have failures, but I always try to put my patients first – whether it’s 2 or 3am, or the 14th operation in a row, or on the 10th day of being on call. What’s difficult for me is nothing in comparison to what the patient and their family is facing. My goal is to meet the needs of people placing their trust in me.
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