Over the course of my 25 years on this planet, I have had my fair share of encounters with doctors across the state of Alabama. Across 15 surgeries and numerous checkups, it is easy to say several of them have made a lasting impact on my life and my family.
I have never been shy about sharing my stories about my heart problems and how they have gotten me to where I am today. And my parents have always told me to make sure those around me know about my health issues so I am sure they will be thrilled in me publicizing this.
When I was born, the doctors told my parents I had a congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. There was a hole in my heart and I needed to have my first open heart surgery when I was 7 months old.
Obviously, I cannot recall much from that one but I can only imagine what those moments were like for my family. I am sure there was plenty of doctors and nurses along the way trying to explain every detail and what was needed to make sure the surgery, recovery and long-term health would go over smoothly.
Although I have heard stories about the first surgeon, the only thing I can really tell you is he was kind of a big deal. Dr. Albert Pacifico spent almost 40 years at UAB hospitals as a cardiac surgeon and the guy has his own Wikipedia page so you know he’s important.
The surgery went well and with some smaller follow-up procedures, everything turned out to be as normal as it could be. My parents moved us to Birmingham so I could be closer to the care I needed.
The first pediatric cardiologist I remember having was Dr. Paul Israel. Even as a kid, I remember looking forward to some of those appointments and over time, Dr. Israel was basically a part of our family.
Over more than a decade of checkups and appointments, Dr. Israel showed how much he cared for his patients and their families and you could see his passion for his job. And he showed that all the way until the end when he had to break some news to my mom and me in the doctor’s office.
Less than 24 hours before leaving on a church trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, I had my annual appointment with Dr. Israel. We did not expect anything to be wrong; we were there to look at my heart, do the normal tests and head back home.
However, the expression on Dr. Israel’s face was clear this was not normal. After leaving the room and making a phone call, he returned to tell us I would need a pacemaker put in as soon as possible.
Apparently, my heart rate had declined gradually over approximately a four-month span and was completely unrelated to my original heart condition. I know, I have the best luck.
Dr. Israel shared tears with us and I always look back wondering if it was because he was scared of the surgery or if it was because he knew he’d be losing the best patient of all time. Clearly it is the latter.
Four days after my appointment, I went into the operating room with my heart rate below 30 beats per minute. Dr. Yung Lau performed the surgery and made the recovery as simple as possible.
I was 14 when I had that surgery and Dr. Lau has been my cardiologist ever since. He made the transition easy, showing how much he cared by always asking about my personal life and even pushing me to become a better journalist.
Dr. Lau also prepared me for another open-heart surgery in May 2017. This was a procedure we had been expecting and got to plan around my schedule to get it done.
With the right side of my heart enlarged, I needed a valve replacement to make sure the heart would begin to shrink and start working as well as it should. Dr. David Mauchley did the procedure at UAB and helped me prepare for the recovery with every small detail I needed.
If it were not for each of these doctors and many more who are not named here, I would not be where I am today. Sure, I did not like when I was told I could not play sports in high school but that pushed me to pursue a career around my passion.
Doctors are seen for the treatment they give to people and will sometimes get the thanks when a patient leaves their care. However, the lasting impact they have made on my life and so many others shows it’s about more than what happens inside the hospital.
So, from everyone’s favorite part-cow, part-robot heart sportswriter to all the doctors pushing themselves to make our lives better, thank you.
Caleb Turrentine is a sportswriter for Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.