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The Amazing Doctor Who Found a Unique Way to Soothe My Daughter

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I met Dr. Alan J. Schwartz for the first time when he was the anesthesiologist for my daughter about two years ago. All of the doctors that care for Addie at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) are awesome, but I’d like to think it was fate the day Dr. Schwartz walked into pre-op.

He looks like Steven Spielberg and reminds me of someone Spielberg would make a movie about. He is so personable and caring. There’s no rushing and everyone is important. My daughter was important to him.

He knew Addie was “complicated” and had a long medical history. She has to be intubated for all procedures, big or small (even MRIs, due to her lung disease). When Dr. Schwartz walked in, it was as if God sent me Mary Poppins dressed in scrubs.

He explained to me that he believes in the patient and the family, and that the patient/family centered approach works best. He told me he would take the very best care of her. I did not doubt him at all.

He said I was to “suit up” and I would carry her to the operating room myself and actually hold her. They would put a mask on her face while I held her and I would speak to her to comfort her until she fell asleep. Once asleep, I would leave and they would “do their thing.” This would alleviate the scariness to an autistic child and prevent the crying and screaming which would lead to issues with her breathing because of her rare lung disease. This would also prevent a possible seizure brought on from all of these things (she has a seizure history because of a rare brain malformation).

Flash Forward to now. It’s 2015 and Addie is now 4. She has a service dog named Data who we adore. We have a doctor named Dr. Dunham, and his secretary, Eileen Kelm, on speed dial. They’re superheroes, but when Addie needed another procedure I took a chance and emailed Dr. Schwartz.

I am not joking, the guy emailed me within 5 minutes. He said he wasn’t working as many hours but he would of course take care of Addie in anesthesia and coordinate with our other doctors. I was suddenly watching a CHOP tour de force at work. Addie sees a host of specialists at CHOP, and they’re all awesome, but this is just extraordinary.

As it turned out, Dr. Schwartz had published a paper about the importance of special needs children having their service animals with them leading up to procedures. We would try this with Addie.

When the time came, the gurney smoothly sailed down the hall towards the operating room. On it perched Addie with Data. She was smiling and hugging her 67-pound best friend. I swear he was smiling back at her.

Addie and Data snuggling and smiling.

I walked alongside of the gurney in scrubs, trying to look as casually happy as they did. As we passed people in the hall, everyone stared and smiled and waved like she was on a float and she waved back. She loved it.

Addie and Data sailing into the OR together right before surgery.

She was completely relaxed and without a care in the world — it was exactly what we wanted for her pre-surgery. I think I was the only one nervous. The doors of the OR opened. Dr. Schwartz let Data and I stay until she went under anesthesia.

You’d never know she was about to have surgery as she was just so happy to have her dog with her. Dr. Schwartz is behind them.
Addie and Data recovering post surgery.

They used a mask and did nothing invasive with her at all until she was asleep as to avoid upsetting her. She literally held onto Data as she slept, talking to him the whole time. I knew she was safe. They had Data and I leave so they could intubate her and begin the surgery. She never felt a thing.

The last thing she remembered was her best friend Data and her Mommy.

Dr. Dunham and Dr. Schwartz “consult” with Data about the surgery.

After the procedure Addie was recovering with Data by her side and Dr. Schwartz walked in. I hugged him. He reminded me that there truly are good people out there. He helped a girl who once would scream, throw up and be terrified of procedures. Instead she had sailed away to surgery, waving and smiling.

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Originally published: April 10, 2015
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