21 years ago I was 22. I was single, and a new teacher. I was just out of college, finding my way. I had a sister who was 25 and had just gotten married, and a sister who was 6.
I knew nothing of what life would have in store for me. I knew only of a few wacky surgeries I had had.
I also knew of some scary times surrounding that 6 year old I loved a whole lot.
Sometime around my sister’s wedding, the little one starting complaining of pain. When she volunteered to go to the doctor we were all stunned.
What followed was a blur, and a nightmare, and a million blessings all rolled into one.
There was this tumor, inside her spinal cord. Inside. By all rights, as my parents were shuffled from doctor to doctor, they were told the little one should not be walking.
Miracles followed miracles, and egos evaporated. The system worked the way it should and she was placed in the hands of Dr. Fred Epstein, arguably THE top pediatric neurosurgeon.
Dr. Epstein cared for Kathi in the operating room, and he cared for her out of the OR as well.
I can remember visiting one day when he came in the room with these remarkable cowboy boots. And he sat down next to her, and spoke to her before even addressing the adults hovered around. He was a gifted surgeon, and a true gentleman. He smiled, he laughed, and clearly loved what he did.
I knew that he had changed my sister’s life, well all of our lives, by being talented, and daring enough to get that tumor out.
I learned later he struggled in school and likely had a learning disability. He had been told he wouldn’t be successful. Someone forgot to tell his patients.
My sister swam for years, all through college, runs regularly, and has even finished the NYC Marathon.
I hope Dr. Epstein knew of his ripple effects. I hope all of the really great ones know. Because when it’s done right, medicine, surgery, compassion for others, it changes lives.
Kathi doesn’t have Cowden’s Syndrome. And I couldn’t be happier about that. She also no longer has a spinal cord tumor. And that, well, that is pretty cool too.
My sister’s surgery is one of the many things that helps us keep perspective here. Everyone suffers. Everyone rejoices. A diagnosis doesn’t really change that. Everyone has something.
21 years ago, this doctor, and his cowboy boots, and his smile, saved my little sister’s life.
She has this tatoo on her, as a constant reminder of the wise words of this gentle, superhuman.
“We may know too much about the unpredictable ways of the world to expect a happy ending, but we can’t help but hope for one all the same.” – Dr. Fred Epstein
Dr. Epstein suffered an unfortunate accident in 2001 that rendered him unable to operate. He died in 2006. The ripple effects of his work will live on forever, in my family and across the world.
Dates. Memories. Celebrations. Gratitude.
Today we think of Dr. Epstein with thankful hearts. Thankful for the memories he has allowed us to have, and for the ones we will continue to make.
All these things give us the strength to remain