Natasha Wald’s superhero is
pediatric transplant surgeon Srinath Chinnakotla, M.D.
Rilee Stavig(Submitted photo)
Dr. Chinnakotla performed a liver transplant on Natasha’s 11-month-old son, Rilee. Here is the letter Natasha wrote him:
Dear Dr. Chinnakotla,
I have wanted to write you this letter for such a long time. I could never think of the words that I have wanted to express to you.
Every day I think about that hot, sticky, rainy July day. It was Friday, July 15, 2011. The first time we had met you, I was extremely nervous. I didn't know what we were going to hear from you. You knew exactly what you were doing. You came in and examined Rilee in less than 5 minutes. You left the room and spoke with Dr. Landrum. You both returned to the room and sat us down to tell us something we never expected to have heard ever in our lives. The words you spoke seemed so surreal. I wrote down the things you told us as you spoke. The whole time my heart was breaking; my anxiety went through the roof. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
You were explaining that if we did not follow through with the transplant that our precious little baby boy would die. If we followed through with it, he had a 50/50 of survival. He could die in the OR, that he could go through those doors and not come back out, that he would live in the ICU for 6 months to 1 year, that if he were to survive the surgery, he would be the smallest baby that you have ever operated on. That you would go into the OR, and if things went wrong, you would come out with a clear conscious knowing that you did everything you could to save him. To some people that sounds so harsh, but to me (us), it was the truth, and we needed to hear it. That right there was when I realized that I liked and admired you. You were straightforward with us, no sugar-coating anything… it was the truth. Take it or leave it but this is reality, and we had a very tough decision to make.
The second time we had met, you told us the same words again, but you added that this whole situation is a life-changing experience, that we would be on an emotional roller coaster for the rest of our lives, all of the ups and downs we would go through.
Srinath Chinnakotla, M.D.
Rilee was listed August 3, 2011, on a Wednesday. On the 8th, I had a dream that it had only taken a week to get a donor. And on the 10th at 3:43 p.m. I received the phone call that changed my whole life for the rest of my life. It was a week exactly almost to the minute, that there was a donor available for our son. I have never felt so many emotions before in my life at one time…
The third time I saw you was August 11, 2011, at 1:15 a.m. You came strolling in with your coffee and said, “It’s a go. Someone will be out in a while for the first update.”
As I write this I look at [Rilee], and I am so proud of him, and I am so blessed to be his mommy. So blessed to have that little precious baby boy as my hero, as well as you.
The next 8 hours were the longest hours of my life. The wait, the pain, the anxiety I felt the whole time was an experience in itself. It was roughly 8:45 a.m. You came out and started talking to us. I couldn’t quite hear what you were saying. I asked to go into another room so I could hear. But what I was about to hear was nothing I have ever wanted to hear in my life. That Rilee was sicker than you had thought and that he only had days, maybe hours, left to live. The tears came running down my face. You continued [talking about] the next 48 hours being extremely critical, that he could go either way, that he needed to be monitored very closely...
For the next 3 1/2 months, you came to examine him. You followed up with him to make sure everything was going in the right direction, [telling us] that it is a day-to-day process.
I am sure you think that you are just doing your job. But to me… it is more than that.
I know this is what you choose to do with your life and that it is your career, but to me, it is more than that. I feel like I owe you my life. You saved my son's life that day/night. You save lives every day. [Rilee] is here today because of you. I know the only thing that I can say to you is thank you. I just wanted to take the time to thank you and express my words to you about how important a person you are to me. Thank you for doing what you do every day. Thank you for choosing this as your career. Thank you for being the most genuine person I have ever met in my life. Thank you for being the loving and caring person that you are. And most importantly thank you for saving my son's life and giving him a second chance at life.
…I am so proud of my son for knowing your voice. He does the same thing to you that he does to me. Whenever he hears your voice or feels your presence when he is sleeping, it is like he knows it is time to wake up and smile. He does not do that for anyone else...
Thank you again for saving my little miracle baby boy, Rilee.
—Natasha Wald, Rilee Stavig’s mom