Jehovah was not in the wind. And after the wind, an earthquake: Jehovah was not in the earthquake.
And after the earthquake, a fire: Jehovah was not in the fire. And after the fire, a soft gentle voice. (1Kings 19:11-12)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

An Open Letter to Dr. David: Top Heart Surgeon in the World

Dear Dr. David, 

Six months ago you strode, tall and distinguished in your white doctor’s coat with your determined step, into a hospital room at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre in Toronto General and sat down at the end of the bed beside me and offered to perform high-risk open-heart surgery as I was in class III heart failure. I presume you have done this thousands of times, but it was a first for me. You are the world's best heart surgeon, so I read on Google after I met you initially on the telehealth video conference appointment the month prior. You caught me by surprise on that video with your confidence that you could so easily fix my heart when all other doctors I had met had told me my medical situation was not an easy one to remedy.

You may not remember, but I asked you who would do the surgery. You laughed out loud and said you would as though you stated the obvious. I didn’t even realize who you were. Yes, I immediately dug up all the online information I could find on you. You were a bright boy born in the 1940’s and you ran around bare-footed with your brothers in Brazil. You didn’t have any interest in medicine and you were repulsed by sight of blood, but your father pushed you to pursue excellent things and you found your passion in heart surgery. One article claimed you trained Dr. Oz—the famous television doctor—and past patients testified of your incredible accomplishments and compassionate bed-side manner. I read about the David Procedure—the heart procedure named after you because you developed it. I didn’t know my cardiologist had referred me to the top cardiovascular surgeon in the world. I felt very privileged and humbled.

I was still doubtful you would take me on. However, you were our only option. So, as long as you were up to the investigation, I would walk through this open door. I began to see that God had placed you in my life for such a time as this. I also began to sense that God had placed me in your life for such a time as this. I was not going to be an easy patient, even for the most talented, brilliant, creative and innovative heart surgeon in the world. When your secretary called to book the pre-investigative tests, we stepped forward in faith, pleading with God to guide us and give you, the surgeon, wisdom and that it would all result in glory to God.

Back to the meeting in the hospital on that humid night as August was wrapping up. You were certain you could replace my aortic valve and if you did—I would live—but, if you didn’t—I would have, at the most, two years longer to live. You reminded me there would be significant risks because of my 30% lung capacity and there would be a hard year-long recovery. I asked you, if I was your daughter, what would you do; would you go ahead with such a risky surgery? Yes, you submitted you would. You suggested Jon and I discuss it and you turned and vanished from the room like a wave upon the shore, tossing from over your shoulder that you would return within the hour to hear what Jon and I would decide. Jon and I bowed our heads together and prayed to the God who accepts our praise and hears our petitions that His will be done. 

When you rushed in again, we agreed we would proceed with the surgery and I confessed to you of the countless people not only praying for me, but also for you. Ah, you said, I was a very religious woman. By the end of my extended stay in ICU, Dr David, you could only turn your hands up towards heaven and say that you believed that Providence had a hand in my life. Oh, I am not ashamed to proclaim it's definitely more than religion! The very hand of God is active in our lives and desires an intimate relationship with the ones He has created for His glory.

The next afternoon I climbed onto the operating table. My eyes scanned the sterile room and your expert medical team—all focused on the task before them. The bright lights, gleaming equipment, machines and dedicated staff crowded the room. I was introduced to your team and as I lay vulnerable before them I thanked them for using their skills and knowledge and told them that many prayers were being offered for each of them. The somber atmosphere in the room mingled with their hopeful, confident and optimistic attitudes. I spoke a few words, but mostly committed my heart, life, and loved ones into the hands of the Greatest Physician as the sedation flowed through my blood and caused me to enter a deep sleep.

Jon described how solemn you were when you finished in the operating room on August 29th and your presence filled the waiting area. You hushed my sister who cheered when you reported that I came through the surgery because you were not sure if I would make it through the night or the next 24 hours. Jon was with me for the whole roller coaster ride of those 80 days in cardiovascular ICU while we fought for my life and then anticipated going home to our family, which turned out to be harder than I ever could have imagined.

You explained to us that when you broke apart my sternum you could not have anticipated how dreadful my heart really was—buried under clay-like tissue and altogether in the wrong position. You answered my endless questions that I scrawled on scrap paper because I had no voice and you drew diagrams, on the old clipboard I somehow acquired, of how you carved out eggshell shattered parts of my heart and replaced it with healthier arteries. The day you acknowledged God’s hand at work, you shared with us that you would not have attempted surgery had the investigative tests shown more accurately what you found hidden in my chest wall. My arteries were so terribly calcified from radiation treatment thirty-five years ago that my heart could have and would stop at anytime within the coming year had we not gone ahead with surgery. We are so thankful that God provided and had prepared you in your wisdom and knowledge, creativity and innovation, and speed to take my heart that had been so severely damaged by radiation and make it as good as you could.

It all reminds me of a verse that says: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” You have performed phenomenal surgeries on over fifteen thousand sick hearts in your life so far. You have touched the lives of countless individuals. How can we ever thank you for using your God-given talents on my heart and impacting the lives of so many of our family and friends? Your name is respected among all who were praying, loving and supporting us.

We thank God for you and continue to pray for you and your heart. You know sick hearts and the only One who truly sustains all of life knows yours. You invest so much time and energy into the hearts of others. I pray that God would grant you His mercy and grace, that He would reveal to you what is in your heart and that you would know how He demonstrated His love to you in that while your heart was still sick with sin, God sent His Son to deal with that sin by His death, and cover you in His righteousness by His resurrected life. This is Good News for all who believe, by faith alone, that though we were dead in sin we have been made alive in Christ.

I know you are a busy doctor, husband, father who has made incredible commitments to and sacrifices in helping others. I am burdened for your heart. You have had made an extraordinary difference in my life. You and I have shed tears together over the good things God has done in my life, despite how difficult my life has been from a medical perspective, and how God has blessed me with a husband who has loved me so well in sickness and in health, and three miraculous children. I will never forget you. My children look up to you. Jon could never repay you for what you have done for us! 


Now, six months later I wonder what you thought when you stood for over six hours to replace my valve, repair my arteries and rebuild my damaged heart only to see me turn blue at the end of it all when I was lifted off the operating table. Or when my only functioning lung collapsed and developed pneumonia, and I went into respiratory failure, needed to be re-intubated, then endured a tracheotomy for a month and I could not smell, eat, or talk, and finally my phrenic nerve and diaphragm proved to be damaged. This may seem like everyday routine to you, but what a privilege you have to make such a profound impact on so many lives in this world. I am grateful your father pushed you to pursue what has become your passion.

You will be thrilled to know that I am off all assisted oxygen and God continues to heal my body. My new heart valve is extremely loud and can be incredibly annoying, except we are thankful for every tick we hear as God has purposed my life to remain here for this time for His good and glory and to be a blessing to others. I hope it is.

I could write so much more, but you have hearts to operate on, so I don’t dare take any more of your time. The only thing I miss about 80 days in CVICU is the compassionate and inspiring people we met and grew to love!

You are one of them.

Sincerely, your heart patient who continues to pray for your heart,

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