To the woman behind the man behind the mask: An open letter to the wife of my daughter’s heart surgeon

This letter is dedicated to all spouses and family members of pediatric cardiac surgeons who give up so much to give us so much. 

To the woman behind the man behind the mask: An open letter to the wife of my daughter’s heart surgeon

My daughter took twenty-three days to recover from her first open-heart surgery. I was able to say thank you to the man who performed that surgery dozens of times. He was there twenty-two of twenty-three days, most of the time twice a day, to check on her recovery. He was always there, standing next to my husband and me, watching her monitors with us, answering our countless questions. He was always there and, together, we celebrated her milestones and lamented her setbacks. He was always there, not only making sure that she was okay, but also making sure that we were okay.

That man is your husband, and he was always there.

My daughter was constantly surrounded by an incredible team of nurses, clinical care coordinators, technicians, and nurse practitioners. She had an entire team, and I am eternally grateful to all of them, but his visits were the visits I appreciated the most.

He had saved our daughter’s life and with that, he earned our trust forever, and so it was him we looked to when trying to decide what was best for her.

I remember the moment it dawned on me. He was in the ICU next to my husband, standing the same way my husband does: tall, strong, with his arms crossed. They were talking, but never looking away from her monitors. They both had their eyebrows furrowed while discussing a respiratory setback. He was in this with us. We were not there alone, and I was thankful.

That is when I noticed his wedding ring and it hit me. Because he was there was us, he was not there with you.

That was the day that I realized everything you must do so that your husband could be standing next to my husband.

That was the day I began praying for you, and I haven’t stopped.

There must be so many times it is hard to be married to a hero.

When his pager goes off while you’re finally out to dinner, you bury your disappointment.
When he misses saying goodnight to the kids, you bury your annoyance.
When he is so transparently going back over the last patient’s chart in his head instead of listening to the story you’ve been waiting to tell him all day, you bury your hurt.
Oh, the magnitude of what you must bury!

But you do it.
Because you know.

You see it on his face when he comes home from a successful surgery. You hear it pour through the voices of parents in the thank you cards you hang on the wall. You see it, and you hear it, and you remember.

You married a hero.

You know that while he is absent for some of your kids’ firsts, he is giving my daughter a chance to have firsts.
You know that while you’re missing him for today, he is preventing us from missing our daughter for a lifetime.

You bury it…because you know that burying it may very well mean we won’t have to bury our daughter.

There must be so many times it is amazing to be married to a hero.

When I look at my daughter’s scar and whisper a prayer of thanks for your husband, I also whisper a prayer of thanks for you.

When I think of our newly expanded family, our heart family, made up of so many wonderful people trying to save her life, you’re such an important part of that picture.

I know that in the intricate puzzle it takes to keep my daughter alive, you are an indispensable, invaluable piece.

Thank you is not enough, but it is all I have.

Thank you for allowing me to get to know your husband for the chance to get to know my daughter.

Thank you for every smile that comes across her face, every wiggle of her toes, every breath she takes.

Thank YOU.  Your husband is our hero, and I am sure he would say that he couldn’t do it without you.

Without you, we may not have her. You have blessed us greatly, and we are forever grateful.


17 thoughts on “To the woman behind the man behind the mask: An open letter to the wife of my daughter’s heart surgeon”

  1. So powerful yes to all those doctors that save lives and to all their families for the sacrifices they make. Thank you for saving my granddoughter’s life for every grstful.
    A grandmother

  2. This is a very touching letter. I thank you for expressing these sentiments to the doctors wife. You are a jewel for taking the time to give your thanks..

  3. As that woman, I know the importance of him being at the hospital until all hours of the night. My husband came home late again tonight, and missed seeing our daughter and kiss her goodnight. I truly appreciate you recognizing the women behind the man behind the mask, but you, and other heart mommies, are the amazing ones who continue to keep surprising me with your strength and courage. I hope you can take your baby home soon, because that’s what is most important. Much love! Xo

  4. As a daughter of a surgeon this definitely hit home. Growing up my father was never around that much (when he was home, his thoughts were somewhere else). I didn’t have such a good relationship with my father because I often felt unloved, rejected and not special. I was often very angry and jealous, and didn’t understand why he never had time for us.

    Now that I am older I am so incredibly proud of my father. He is a heart surgeon and has helped so many people that are so grateful, not just because he saved the life of their loved one, but because of his caring and thoughtful nature. My dad may not have always been around and that surely had an effect on me growing up, but looking back it is a tiny price to pay for the many lives my dad touched and saved (ironically he doesn’t even know and acknowledge how special he is).

    He is and always will be, for his utter selflessness and passion to help others, my hero. And my mother, always compensating and keeping our family together, and standing by my dad for over 40 years now, is the rock of our family.

  5. Through this letter you have given new hope to a “Hero-in-training” who often suffers great guilt at leaving her husband in an empty bed several times a month for countless hours in order to be in the ER to keep someone else’s family member alive.

  6. I would like to also say Thank You to the Mettler family! This story is so touching because he is our son’s heart surgeon also. He is a great man. Also thank you to the family that stands behind him while he saves lives in our families! We are so thankful for his time and all of the staff at Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital! Thank you to all the one’s in the medical field that take so much time away from their families to help all of ours. And a special Thanks to the Parra/Mettler Team from the Reed Family!!!

  7. As the wife of a Pediatric Cardiovascular Surgeon, I can only say thank you for this wonderful letter that acknowledges the families of the surgeons. I am so proud of my husband, but the ways that his job affected our family which you expressed were right on. It was wonderful to know, however, that he had been helping a family with a baby or young child that needed him, and we as his family, loved him for that. It was a different life from most families, but it was definitely worth it.
    Thank you again for your acknowledgement.God bless you for writing it.

  8. Love this piece really good am a wife of an urological surgeon same feelings especially on special days for the family. I know better now as u appreciate those that give that SUPPORT
    to keep them going. Thank u

  9. Thank you for writing this. My husband is a ophthalmic surgeon, so while he’s not necessarily saving lives every day, he’s saving eyes, and the occasional life when he is able to remove tumors, etc. I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve been out to dinner, at an event, finally relaxing at home after a long day, or fast asleep in the middle of the night that his pager has gone off and I disappointingly see him off. But I’m never really that disappointed, because I’m mostly proud. He is doing wonderful things for people and I couldn’t be happier to have married a man who puts other people first. And his patients are so incredibly thankful, and that makes it all worthwhile. Surgeons are endlessly grateful for thankful patients and parents like you. Best of luck with your new baby! 🙂

  10. Amazing and oh so true. As a mother just starting out on our heart journey, this really hit home. Our daughter is one month old and we are trying to get her a bit stronger and a bit bigger before she will undergo her open heart surgery. Its a terrifying time and we have put our comfort into her care team 100%. We have had a conversation about our Cardiologists wife as well and how we feel guilty but beyond appreciative. I just found your letter to be so true and needed. Im glad someone pointed out all that is sacrificed for our children and the health of others. It helps make the journey a little easier. Just thank you for writing such an honest and heartfelt letter!!

  11. I am the mother of three doctors; Sports Medicine, Pain Management and ER; and my son-in-law is a pediatric surgeon. My daughter is the backbone of their family; she knows he is helping someone else’s child when he is not with their children. He gets to their activities when he can, but may be called away at some point to save another child. We are so proud of him and my daughter for keeping their family strong and together with three wonderful children and for 23 years and hopefully for st least 23 more to come!
    Thank you for your letter to my daughter and all families behind these incredible people who give their lives to help others.
    Best of health to your precious new baby!

  12. That was so beautiful. I worked as a PICU nurse for many years with heroes like this one and it was so thoughtful of you to remember their family too.

  13. This article made me cry. I appreciate it so much. You have wonderful insight. From the wife of a pediatric heart surgeon.

  14. Hi, I am married to a surgeon and really appreciate you writing this. I would like to ask your permission to use this article for a project I’m working on. I wasn’t sure how to contact you directly, so I’m hoping you will send me an email and we can start a conversation.
    Thank you!

    1. Yes, you can absolutely use it. Please note that almost a year ago, my sweet Sylvia passed away after three months on life support following a very complicated heart surgery. All my love for surgeons and their families remains the same.

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