There is nothing in the world that Jillian Benfield loves more than her children. When she learned that her second child, Anderson, had Down Syndrome, it had no effect whatsoever on how much she would love her child.
In fact, Jillian said having a child with Down Syndrome actually changed her view on the world.
“Yes there will be challenges. But like anything in life, every step you take prepares you for the next.
Your child is not ill because of Down syndrome. All is not lost because of Down syndrome. In fact, Down syndrome can help heal. Down syndrome can help you find yourself. Down syndrome can add layers of meaning to your life you never imagined.”
Unfortunately, Jillian also knew that because of his condition, Anderson would require open heart surgery. That’s a situation and truth for any mother.
After the surgery, Jillian wrote a heart-wrenching letter to Dr. Nigro, Anderson’s heart surgeon. It started out aggresive, but she wanted to let him know exactly how she was feeling. Its content is stunning:
“Dear Dr. Nigro,
I didn’t want to meet you. In fact, I was angry on the two-and-a-half hour drive to your office. See, I was told that my son’s heart defect would most likely not require open heart surgery. Then, all of a sudden, it felt like a bomb went off and the explosion sent my husband and I to your office a few days later.
I came prepared. The journalist in me researched articles, stalked heart groups on Facebook; I was armed with a pen and notebook. I was not going to let you cut open my son’s chest just because you were the closest pediatric heart surgeon.
I asked you this, ‘Have you ever lost a baby from this heart surgery?’ You looked down and said, ‘Yes.’ There was one little girl, one among thousands, who also had Down syndrome, who went home and died in her sleep. Even though the loss was more than a decade ago, I could tell it still pained your heart. That’s when I knew you were the one.
On the day of surgery, you saw I was emotional, you gave me a tissue and assured me it would be okay. You were more than confident. This is what you do. Day in and day out you save our children’s lives.
If my son were born in the 80’s, his life expectancy would have been around 25 years old. Now, it is in the 60’s. This is in large part because of people like you.
I know you went to four years of undergrad, four years of medical school, multiple internships, residencies and a fellowship. You spent about two decades of your life sacrificing and learning so that you would know how to perform near miracles.
I saw you come in both Saturday and Sunday with your khaki pants and your wind-blown hair. I know you were trying to have a piece of normalcy but that you had to check on all of your patients before you could try to enjoy yourself outside of the hospital’s 5th floor. I know your wife sees very little of you. I know that you have dedicated your life to save others.
For however broken our medical system seems to be, you are the bright spot. You spend the majority of your life surrounded by either the walls of the OR or the CICU’s because of a calling, a calling to change lives and enhance futures.
When we are kids, we are taught that super heroes come with big muscles and capes. As an adult I’ve realized they often times come in surgical caps and scrubs.
Thank you for your enormous dedication. Thank you for all of those years you sacrificed perfecting your craft. Thank you for making my son’s broken heart whole. Thank you for making your life about making his better.”
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