Wife. Mother. Plastic Surgeon.

By Ashley N. Amalfi, MD

Everything changes when you become a parent.  My husband and I were forced to become parents long before we met our son.

At our 20 week ultrasound, the technician had tears in her eyes as she scanned our baby boy. Our excitement about finding out the gender quickly turned to fear, and we knew instantly that something was wrong.  We spent the next half of the pregnancy uncertain of what the future would hold for our innocent child.

As the solo chief resident, pregnancy was difficult enough on its own.  I was fortunate to be at a program like SIU, where my residents, faculty and staff became a second family for me.  They provided me with so much optimism, hope and support, encouraging me to take care of myself and my baby.

On August 12, 2014, Thomas Julian Frye arrived into this world with chubby cheeks and a head full of dark hair.  The minute we heard our son cry, my husband and I were brought to tears; he was a fighter.  We knew we had a long road ahead, but our sweet baby boy was strong, and as a family, we could overcome anything.

Thomas spent the first week of his life in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Golisano Children’s Hospital in my hometown of Rochester, New York.  An echocardiogram after birth confirmed our worst fears.  Thomas had multiple congenital heart defects, including a hypoplastic aortic arch, ASD and VSD.

When he was just eight days old, Thomas underwent a six hour operation to repair his tiny heart.  Handing my newborn son into the surgeon’s hands was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.  It was a feeling of helplessness and surrender that I have never felt.  As surgeons, both my husband and I knew all too well what was about to happen.  Thomas was on cardiopulmonary bypass for four and a half hours- I don’t think that I took a breath during that entire time.  Even thinking about those hours of waiting paralyzes me with fear.  We were living hour to hour, cherishing every update from the nurse, until the final call when they told us that he was off the pump and finally in sinus rhythm.  We could exhale.  It was over.  They had made his little heart as perfect as the rest of him.

The first seven months of his life have not been easy, but our son is a fighter and he has made a remarkable recovery.  There have been many bumps in the road, including another surgery, but we are on the pathway to healing.

I am a different person now.  I am a different mother, a different wife, a different friend and a different physician.

My interactions with patients are altered after this experience.  Each time I counsel families about surgery, I am reminded of what it felt to be on the receiving end.  I spend more time planning what to say and how to say it.  When I meet with a patient’s family following surgery, I am transformed to my own experience each and every time.  I am conscious of how much time I spend with patients, and I do my best to be present and mindful, whether it’s our initial consultation, or even during hospital rounds and subsequent encounters.  I pay attention to how often the circulator calls and updates a family, and just what she says.  There is something so special about our profession.  We are able to offer hope and healing at a time in people’s lives when no one else can.  In our haze of call schedules, case logs and duty hours, we must not lose sight of that human side of medicine.

As my plastic surgery residency comes to an end, I am so grateful for all the knowledge and skill that I have acquired in my training.  I am fortunate to be at a program where work life balance is truly valued, and many women before me have lead by example, showing me that it is possible to be a wife, a mother, and a plastic surgeon.  But the greatest lesson I have learned about being a physician I have learned from my son.

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I am in awe of his strength, and humbled to be the parent of this special boy.  I am grateful for every moment, every smile, and every heartbeat.

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11 thoughts on “Wife. Mother. Plastic Surgeon.

  1. Dear Ashley, What a wonderfully written piece of your life. I couldn’t be more proud to call you family. I’m so sorry that you had to experience heartache with Thomas, but it’s made you stronger and more compassionate as a person. He also will become as strong as you and Tom, because you’ve already shown him what strength is. God bless you and your family. I love you baby girl. Love Aunt Laura

  2. That article touched me in so many ways. You and your husband have been through so much with your son . It’s amazing how you have taken a very personal experience and transformed your experiences to make you a sensitive, compassionate and patient physician. I wish you the best with your son. He is absolutely beautiful.
    You have a very beautiful family that I miss very much. My son dated your cousin .

  3. Ashley, Wonderfully written. I am very touched by your story. I met you at WPS. You are a very strong woman. Congrats on all you have accomplished. Your boy is precious. Good luck to you in your future career. Continue to value your family above all else and seek happiness!

  4. What an inspiring story of determination and strength. Ashley, knowing a bit what it takes to get through a plastic residency program, I know it hasn’t been easy for you. Your little boy has a strong spirit, and is adorable. I know you will be a great example of compassion to many and will touch so many lives in your future career as a plastic surgeon. I will miss you.

  5. Thank you for sharing your story . As a physican mother too, I went through something similar which happened during my fellowship. Women physcians tend to want to fix everything and have control over everything. Once I realized I couldn’t do this with my child’s future, I was able to find a better balance and I started to really enjoy being a mother. Your story brought me to tears as I recall my days at bedside with my recovering baby. I think knowing all this medicine makes us worry more. Faith and prayer got me through it. Children are resilient! God bless.

  6. Wonderful addition to the discussion of physicians as patients and mindful practice. Glad you are both doing so well!

  7. I recognize you and Tom for your strength and ability to walk this path together, and find peace following such a tumultuous time. Parenthood is well, every emotion balled up into one, and that’s before handing your baby boy over to a surgeon. God bless you, and I thank God for the skillful handling of your baby boy’s heart. Knowing that your little man has already faced so much so young, and prevailed, indicates that our baby Luke will have a very strong buddy to play with some day. All three of you are in Ash and my prayers.

  8. Ashley, I was a medical student on my plastics rotation when we met. This is such a beautiful and open piece! Thank God your son is okay! After an experience I had with a family member, I really try to be present for patients….it is the scariest thing when you give someone you love to another surgeon, out of your control.

    I only wish the best for you and your family going forward.

    Deena

  9. Ashley,
    I am relieved to hear that your story had a happy ending! I have been wondering for a long time how things were going for you and your baby boy since you moved to New York. You never forget the families where something was “wrong” during an ultrasound, and sometimes we never hear how the story ends. I am grateful we live in a time where we can have hope even when things aren’t as planned. Your story is inspirational and I’m so glad you shared! Congratulations to you and your husband, your baby boy is precious!

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