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.
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.