To the Doctor Who Performed Open-Heart Surgery on My Baby Son


Dear Doctor,

I didn’t want to meet you. In fact, I was angry on the two-and-a-half hour drive to your office. See, I was told the heart defect of my son, Anderson, would most likely not require open-heart surgery. Then, all of a sudden, it felt like a bomb went off and the explosion sent my husband and me to your office a few days later.

I came prepared. The journalist in me researched articles, stalked heart groups on Facebook; I was armed with a pen and notebook. I was not going to let you cut open my son’s chest just because you were the closest pediatric heart surgeon.

Jillian Benfield the mighty.4-001
Anderson hours after surgery.

I asked you, “Have you ever lost a baby from this heart surgery?” You looked down and said, “Yes.” There was one little girl, one among thousands, who also had Down syndrome, who went home and died in her sleep. Even though the loss was more than a decade ago, I could tell it still pained your heart. That’s when I knew you were the one.

On the day of surgery, you saw I was emotional and gave me a tissue and assured me it would be OK. You were more than confident. This is what you do. Day in and day out, you save our children’s lives.

If my son were born in the ’80s, his life expectancy would have been around 25 years old. Now, his life expectancy is 60. This is in large part because of people like you.

I know you went to four years of undergrad, four years of medical school, multiple internships, residencies and a fellowship. You spent about two decades of your life sacrificing and learning so that you would know how to perform near miracles.

Jillian Benfield the mighty.1-001
Eight weeks after open-heart surgery. Anderson put on four pounds!

I saw you come in both Saturday and Sunday with your khaki pants and your wind-blown hair. I know you were trying to have a piece of normalcy, but that you had to check on all of your patients before you could try to enjoy yourself outside of the hospital’s fifth floor. I know your wife sees very little of you. I know you have dedicated your life to saving others.

For however broken our medical system seems to be, you are the bright spot. You spend the majority of your life surrounded by either the walls of the OR or the CICU (cardiac intensive care unit) because of a calling, a calling to change lives and enhance futures.

When we were kids, we were taught that superheroes come with big muscles and capes. As an adult, I’ve realized they often times come in surgical caps and scrubs.

Thank you for your enormous dedication. Thank you for all of those years you sacrificed perfecting your craft. Thank you for making my son’s broken heart whole. Thank you for making your life about making his better.

Follow this journey on News Anchor to Homemaker.

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