Emma Haines, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
How do you emotionally prepare a five-year-old girl to undergo critical heart surgery? If you’re Michael Black, M.D., of Sutter-affiliated California Pacific Medical Center, you explain the procedure in simple terms, make sure she feels comfortable—and keep plenty of dolls in your office waiting room.
Emma, a patient of Dr. Black, was born with a congenital heart defect. As her mother Tiffany explains, “Emma had two holes in her heart. To survive, she had to have the holes sewn up”—once she was old enough to withstand the surgery.
As the time neared for the operation, “we did everything we could to find the best medical care to help Emma,” Tiffany says. “When we found Dr. Black and the California Pacific Medical Center, it was a godsend to us because of the way he interacts with all of his patients—on a one-on-one basis. And his nurse Jill is also just extraordinary.” After meeting them, Emma would tell others, “Dr. Black is in my heart, and he’s going to fix my heart.”
Before Emma’s surgery, Dr. Black arranged for Emma and her family to meet the hospital nurses, tour the hospital and meet the anesthesiologist. Emma herself was allowed to make a few choices for surgery day, including what song she wanted to sing before the anesthesia put her to sleep. “That really put the power back in Emma’s hands, so she was in control of what was going to happen to her,” notes Tiffany. “And when you’re five that makes all the difference. She wasn’t scared at all about the surgery.”
Since the surgery, “Emma’s activity level has quadrupled,” reports her mom. “As soon as she recovered from surgery, she took off – and we haven’t been able to stop her since.” She adds, “It’s just a big gift to us that the hospital gave us back a happy, healthy child.”
Or as Emma chimes in, “Dr. Black sewed my heart up with purple thread. The end.”
“I’m Tiffany Haines, Emma’s mother, and that is our story.”