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Thanks To Surgeons

I was pleased to receive an email invitation from Dr. Jon Mikel from Unbounded Medicine to blog about surgery.  He writes,

“Please feel free to post anything related to surgery,
like surgical procedures, mistakes during surgery or during your training,
lessons learned, tips, first operation done solo, memorable operations,
memorable patients, jokes, your point of view about surgery, or even why you dislike surgery or surgeons (if that is the case).”

As my mind wandered through all the possible posts I could prepare, I settled on a touching story that highlights the life of a wonderful surgeon named John Schullinger.  Dr. Schullinger was the surprised recipient of one advanced case of intussusception in a 10 month old baby girl.  The baby was shipped to him from a distant general hospital where they didn’t have any pediatric surgeons to take the case.  On arrival the baby was moribund – septic and seizing, with an abdomen distended with gangrene.

Dr. Schullinger explained the gravity of the baby’s condition to her mom, promised not to give up on the baby, and took her to the O.R. for a bowel resection.  Against all odds – and having to resect everything from the terminal ileum to the sigmoid colon – the baby made it through.  A jubilant mother thanked the surgeon, and promised to keep in touch, though the family would be moving out of the country.

Every Christmas, the baby’s mom sent Dr. Schullinger a card from Canada – detailing her daughter’s growth and accomplishments and thanking him again for saving her life.  Each Christmas he responded with a hand written note, expressing his pleasure with the child’s progress.

This ritual continued each year for 25 years until one day the young woman went to visit the surgeon and thank him in person.  She was interviewing for medical school at Columbia, the same institution where Dr. Schullinger had saved her life nearly a quarter century earlier.  It was a tearful reunion and touching for both surgeon and patient – because they could see how operations can change lives, and how babies that you operate on can grow up to be physicians who help other babies.

Dr. Schullinger saved my life – but his influence reached far beyond his technical skills in the O.R.  His compassion and faithful follow up responses to my mom showed me what being a doctor is all about.  My fondest hope is that I’ll live up to his example.

So for all you surgeons out there… you work longer hours than most others on this planet, you sacrifice your lifestyle to serve others, and yet you rarely see how your work impacts families long term.  I am here to thank you on behalf of all those who can’t or don’t – please take courage from this story.  You never know if the patient you operate on will come back and take over the scalpel for you one day…

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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3 Responses to “Thanks To Surgeons”

  1. scanman says:

    A truly wonderful and heartwarming post Val.

  2. rlbates says:

    Wonderful!  I have a friend who is now a gyn who had heart surgery as a child.  She wrote a similar story for our state medical journal.

  3. kenefick says:

    Such a beautiful post, Dr. Val, and I appreciate his efforts also.

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