When I was in my medical training, parents would ask, “Do you have kids?”
I would say, “No, I'm not a parent” even though I loved helping kids. They would always say, “Well, then you don't really get it.”
I brushed it off and worked through that, but once I had my own children, I felt completely different. I had a new perspective on how we explained things to pediatric patients and what the parents were going through. I still couldn’t completely understand their position given I have, knock on wood, healthy children. But it did feel different once I had my own.
I think being a parent means that we can understand the journey that the child is going to go through, both from the child's perspective and from a parent's perspective.
I used to work at a trauma center for Washington. D. C. in the metro area. We saw a lot of trauma and had a young man come in one time for a head trauma and he was declared brain dead over a number of days. I had spoken to the family about organ donation, and the family had decided that they were going to donate his organs.
The medical examiner (ME) wanted to do an autopsy on the child because it was a car accident and there’s some rules for certain things like this. The ME was going to take the body, and if they took the body, then we wouldn't be able to donate the child’s organs. The child who had passed was a healthy kid—he would’ve been able to donate his organs to probably eight, nine, ten people.
His family wanted to donate, but we were being told that we couldn’t save the lives of countless people because one person didn’t want to travel to our hospital to do an autopsy while they're doing organ harvesting. The ME was very rude to me, so I called up a reporter and explained my situation and asked if he found the story interesting, to let me know, because I would call the ME back and tell them that I've talked to him. And the reporter did.
I called the ME back and said, “Just want to let you know, I've talked to so and so from the local NBC station and let them know that you're keeping this family and this child from saving the lives of countless individuals.” I honestly don't even remember what happened, but he didn't say that he was going do it. Then our legal group got a call about five minutes later.
The first thing they told me was that the ME suddenly had a change of heart and was coming over to do the autopsy, and we were going to go through with the organ transplantation. Then I got a talking to about how I handled the situation, that I didn't go through the proper channels.
My director who I was quite close with pulled me into his office and said, “You absolutely did the right thing. Good job.”
His only injury was his head, so he was able to save a lot of kids. I still have the letters from the organ transplants consortium thanking me for the times when I was able to get a family to donate and just how many kids or adults were saved by those organs.
My passion for caring for others certainly goes back to my parents, who both were very big into volunteering in our community growing up. I did a lot of volunteering in high school where I started working in a hospital, which went a long way to shape what I decided to go into as a career.
I eventually did the same for my own kids by bringing them on rounds with me in the hospital on the weekends and to meet some of the patients. I had the opportunity to bring my older daughter with me to go in and see what it was like, which I thought was important. It allowed her to meet the children and see that, while the technology was, of course scary, these children had overcome their ailments using that technology. It gave my children the understanding that it wasn't scary. My children now have more of an interest in volunteering and helping others.
I found my people in the pediatric wards, the nurses, physicians, and additional staff. If you haven't been around those people, find an opportunity to go into one of the great pediatric institutions, because it's 100% different from an adult institution. It goes down to the person serving you coffee, the people there cleaning—it's just a complete attitude difference.
I've always been a big kid, and always gravitated towards the people that are the same.
Children themselves are so resilient. Even kids that have the most serious of illnesses rarely had their attitudes dampen, and even when they are feeling down for a period of time, they have a different attitude that I didn't see in my time working with adult patients.
It’s so inspiring, and I try to bring that to what we do every day on the research side.
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