A pediatric neurosurgeon reflects on his intense job, and the post-Roe landscape : NPR



That is FRESH AIR. I am Tonya Mosley. Our visitor right now, Jay Wellons, is used to working on tiny brains – not simply brains however all of the components of a child’s central nervous system, which incorporates the backbone of a fetus he describes as being the dimensions of three grains of rice stacked collectively. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, Wellons makes use of superb advances in drugs to heal and restore youngsters affected by diseases and accidents, some attributable to automobile accidents, sports activities collisions and, more and more, gunshot wounds. However in virtually each case, he is additionally coping with dad and mom confronting their worst worry – the prospect of dropping a baby. Wellons writes that he is cried with dad and mom, generally relieved, different instances profoundly unhappy.

Dr. Jay Wellons is a professor of neurological surgical procedure on the Monroe Carell Jr. Kids’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and the Vanderbilt College Medical Middle. He is additionally medical director of the Surgical Outcomes Middle for Youngsters, which he co-founded. And he is written op-ed items for The New York Instances. He displays on his experiences in his memoir titled “All That Strikes Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Sufferers, And Their Tales Of Grace And Resilience” (ph). It is now out in paperback. He spoke with FRESH AIR’s Dave Davies final 12 months.


DAVE DAVIES: Effectively, Jay Wellons, welcome to FRESH AIR.

JAY WELLONS: Thanks, Dave.

DAVIES: The e book is advised largely via instances. You are taking a chapter and inform us a narrative. And I needed to start with one. It is a whereas again. You have been practising in Birmingham, Ala. You get a name from an emergency room doctor in, I feel, Auburn, which is a few hundred miles away.


DAVIES: He has a 9-year-old woman who was injured in an auto accident. What does he inform you?

WELLONS: Effectively, it is unbelievably dangerous climate. And, , most – , most tertiary medical facilities have, , helicopters that fly back-and-forth bringing – , bringing folks in who should be seen, , urgently or emergently. And, , I get this name one Saturday morning on to me from an emergency room physician down in Auburn, within the form of Opelika space of Alabama, and he says, , I’ve bought this affected person, and she or he’s an hour and a half out from her damage, and, , the medevac helicopters aren’t working as a result of the climate is so dangerous. And, , Dave, you’ve gotten, like, 2 1/2, 3 hours of this sort of golden window to essentially intervene, and so the clock is de facto ticking at this level.

And, , on the time, she was across the age of 10. She’d been on this horrible automobile accident, and she or he had a blood clot on the facet of her head, and it was pushing on her mind. And she or he’d blown a pupil, which is the signal of – that, , she was near herniating, which is the place the mind swells a lot that, , the affected person finally dies. So this was only a full-on emergency. And on the time in Birmingham, I had an image on my desk of my dad in his flight go well with holding his helmet. He was an Air Nationwide Guard pilot. And he is standing subsequent to the F-4 that he flies. And I take a look at the flight go well with, and I simply say, , to the ER doc – I am like, look; are these Blackhawks nonetheless flying down there? As a result of if they’re, name the Blackhawks. And he was like, oh, that is an excellent concept. OK, bye.

DAVIES: And the thought was that these army pilots will fly in any climate (laughter).

WELLONS: In any climate. And, – and so, , I am like, oh, my gosh, they’re right here. So I went right down to the ER, they usually have been simply transferring her from the gurney to the trauma bay. And there have been two of these medevac troopers there of their flight gear, they usually have been simply dripping with water, , as a result of they’d simply accomplished no matter it took to get that woman to us. And I bear in mind one of many younger troopers – I walked up, and a nurse mentioned, oh, hey, Dr. Wellons, your affected person’s right here. And I suppose possibly one of many younger troopers knew to ship this affected person to Dr. Wellons. And he, like, instantly snapped to consideration, and I used to be like, comfortable, soldier. I needs to be the one saluting you. You guys have simply saved this woman’s life.

DAVIES: So that you get her to the working desk. Issues have been fairly essential, proper? What was the scenario?

WELLONS: Effectively, she had a big blood clot on the facet of her head. It was pushing her mind to 1 facet. It was inflicting her to have what’s referred to as hemiparesis, or weak point. However her pupil was blown. She was actually unresponsive. Once more, pupil blown implies that there’s loads of strain inside your head. And so at that time, we wanted to get the blood clot out. And so, , I had talked to the OR. They have been prepared. You already know, one, two, three – bought her over to the mattress and turned her round and began clipping hair and prepping and making the incision.

And whenever you do these instances on an elective foundation, , for nonemergent issues, , you are form of taking your time to every layer you go in. However in conditions like this, , the clock is ticking. And so, , it is like, knife, drill, retractor, scissors, blood clot. You already know, it is like – it is that quick ‘trigger you are attempting to get it out. And actually, as soon as we opened up the dura, which is the leathery masking of the mind, the blood clot simply form of – blub (ph) – simply form of squirted its means out. And it was like – virtually like a chunk of liver, ? It simply – it might congeal and just below a lot strain. After which we might see that little vessel pumping, , and so we simply stopped it and irrigated and closed her up. And it was a very good feeling to get that accomplished.

DAVIES: There’s that second then after, , you’ve got – hopefully you’ve got resolved the issue, however then you have to see the affected person reply. How did this little woman do?

WELLONS: Effectively, I bear in mind – , it was early in my apply. I bear in mind, , getting her again as much as the pediatric ICU with our neurosurgery resident who was working with me. And, , I simply bear in mind sitting subsequent to her mattress. You already know, she’s bought a head wrap on, all these traces and IVs which can be in those that, , we’re used to in neurosurgery. However I simply bear in mind seeing her dad and mom’ faces and simply how this was their, , stunning youngster. They – , when all of the world was younger, I imply, simply every little thing was simply – all of the potential. And now every little thing is simply summarized right down to this one very dense spot the place she was and, , the place we have been ready to see how she would get better. And, , the sparkle of the eyes open – that is a miraculous feeling, Dave, , to see any person get up after one thing like that.

DAVIES: So she was OK. Did you keep in contact with the household after that?

WELLONS: Completely. You already know, she had some residual weak point simply from how a lot strain the blood clot was placing on her mind. And, , you comply with up sufferers, and, , you see them again in a couple of weeks to get their stitches taken out, and then you definitely possibly may see them in six months to get a scan. You already know, you will comply with them for a finite time period. And each time I’d see her in clinic, , it was some milestone completed, some superb factor that she’d accomplished, , as she was persevering with to develop and get on the glory roll or, , being a faculty mascot or, , profitable a contest. After which it was time to discharge her from clinic as a result of, , different than simply me desirous to bodily see them and see how effectively she was doing, it actually – she did not want me anymore. And the household continued to ship clippings and ship updates and ship messages, , till I bought an invite to her marriage ceremony, which was form of superb, as you may think about, ?

DAVIES: Effectively, , that is the factor. I imply, I – as a father or mother, I can solely think about what it might be prefer to deliver your youngster in, , on the door of dying and have this miraculous operation, after which they’re restored, they usually proceed with their lives. I’d think about that is one thing that you’d always remember. Do you’ve gotten an enormous e book of pictures and mementos from sufferers you’ve got handled?

WELLONS: (Laughter) Yeah, I’ve an enormous file in an enormous drawer. And, , at any time when I should be lifted up or grounded, – or one of many two, I suppose – I’ll all the time pull that file out and simply flip via it and simply suppose, , this is the reason we do what we do ‘trigger, , it is late nights. It is loads of hours for the residents and for us within the subject. However that diploma of gratitude, I imply, I’ve skilled it as a affected person. I’ve skilled it as a father or mother. And I’ve skilled it as a surgeon. And in order I’ve gotten 20 years into this job and on this profession, , when any person tells me thanks for, , a selected scientific course that has accomplished effectively, , or a miracle that is been answered or nevertheless you wish to say it, , I actually perceive that. I actually attempt to let that wash over me in the best way that it deserves, , that gratitude for – , for his or her youngster being OK or their youngster making it via or serving to them navigate a troublesome scenario the place their youngster didn’t stay, which is an extremely troublesome factor, too.

DAVIES: We will take a break right here. Let me reintroduce you. We’re talking with Dr. Jay Wellons. He’s a pediatric neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt College Medical Middle. His new memoir is “All That Strikes Us.” We’ll proceed our dialog in only a second. That is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR, and we’re talking with Dr. Jay Wellons. He is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt College Medical Middle. He has a memoir about his experiences. It is titled “All That Strikes Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Younger Sufferers, And Their Tales Of Grace And Resilience.”

I would say a lot of the tales that you just relate within the e book are of profitable outcomes, however not all. And also you write a few woman early within the e book referred to as Delayla (ph), I consider. She was 8 whenever you first encountered her. And she or he had a glioblastoma, which is a really, I suppose, extremely aggressive mind tumor. You cared for her for a way lengthy, over what number of operations?

WELLONS: I imply, it was over the course of her 12 months and a half, two years that it took for the – for her to lastly, , succumb to a GBM. I imply, it is a Grade 4 malignant glioma. And it’s extremely difficult, and it has been – to deal with. And it has been very difficult for a lot of, a few years from – , from the second I started my neurosurgery profession to – it is simply been a tumor kind that has eluded, , the investigators to strive to determine what to do subsequent after it is resected. So what’s the very best chemotherapy? What’s the very best radiation remedy? It is only a actually difficult tumor to have. And – yeah, and that is what Delayla had.

DAVIES: And you bought to know her and her mother, Leslie (ph), over loads of visits. What was their relationship like?

WELLONS: Yeah. Effectively, Leslie was superb girl. So I met Delayla, actually, when she got here in after being blind, ? For a brief time period, her mother simply realized that she had gotten nearer and nearer to the TV and that she simply could not see. She bumped right into a wall. And, , principally, we determined to take her to the OR, , that afternoon to – when she arrived to take out this, , very giant mind tumor.

And as soon as we have been completed and we took it out and, , we noticed her get up – and I held a pen out in entrance of her, and she or he named pen. And I held, , my telephone or my thumb. And she or he named every factor. I used to be in a position to exit and inform Leslie, like, , she might see now. And I held out the pen that I would, , held in entrance of Delayla. And I bear in mind Leslie reaching out and touching that pen simply to, like, have some form of tactile feeling that – to know that she had seen that. So positively, through the years and over the time of caring for any person, you develop a relationship. You guess.

DAVIES: You’ve got titled this chapter “Stitches.” You wish to clarify why?

WELLONS: (Laughter) Yeah. So, , whenever you shut a wound, you should use suture. You should utilize staples. You should utilize the kind of suture that absorbs over time. I exploit the usual, good old style stitches that should be clipped out as a result of that is simply – to me, it’s the finest for wound therapeutic. And so on the finish of the day, these stitches have to get clipped out in two or three weeks. And I simply – through the years, I simply have not been the particular person to take the stitches out, ? The youngsters are fearful of it. They suppose it may harm. And now we have a beautiful assistant that does this for us within the clinics and does it in a caring and loving means. However – in order that’s form of the background of “Stitches.”

After which on the finish, when Delayla is near dying and I understand that I’ve had the final dialog together with her and with Leslie, I bear in mind strolling away ‘trigger she had had one other surgical procedure to attempt to assist alleviate some signs, I noticed that I used to be going to take these stitches out. There was – no one else was going to do it. It was mine to do. I needed to do it. And so I simply bear in mind going into her hospital room and simply, , having her flip away and simply very rigorously clipping these stitches out, like, utilizing the identical quantity of abilities that construct up over 20 years of being a micro-neurosurgeon, and simply candy Leslie simply being there, holding her hand, generally turning her head to cry. However that was an important factor for me to do, Dave.

DAVIES: And it was the final time you noticed her.

WELLONS: It was. Yeah. Yeah.

DAVIES: It is onerous to listen to about this. It is onerous to think about the stress and ache that comes with attending to know a child and having the dad and mom hope towards hope that you are going to have the ability to beat this. And generally, you may’t. Do you’ve gotten methods for coping with this sort of ache and stress?

WELLONS: Sure. I – , I feel it’s important to actively decouple whenever you’re in the midst of it, notably when you have youngsters and, , you are a pediatric neurosurgeon. It is virtually like I can envision myself, , urgent a clutch in simply to form of disengage that gear. It is not that straightforward.

DAVIES: You imply that gear that connects you with your personal children? I imply, you do not…

WELLONS: Yeah, that is proper.

DAVIES: You do not wish to take into consideration that this might be you?

WELLONS: That is precisely proper. You already know, in any other case – and it definitely occurs to me, ? Automotive seats are as necessary as, , Gunter from the Apollo missions, , strapping the youngsters in like, Daddy, I am unable to breathe, ? I imply, like, these turn into – issues like that and bike helmets and, , having your youngster get on a motorcycle and experience away, ? There’s – so many tales can come again to you. So it’s important to do your finest to attempt to disengage the father or mother half from the neurosurgeon half, in the event you can. It is simpler mentioned than accomplished.

However on the finish, when a few of these tales like Delayla and like others who’ve not made it are – they’re very unhappy. I do form of have this place that I’m going to that is simply exterior of my imaginative and prescient. And it is simply form of a stupendous, inexperienced subject that I consider. And, , I can take form of the recollections and the expertise of those youngsters and simply – I simply can envision myself placing them in a field. It is not like I neglect these youngsters. It is simply that it is a spot that we put them. And I feel that is a standard feeling amongst surgeons that take care of issues like life and dying.

DAVIES: You’ve got needed to speak to folks so many instances below these excruciating conditions, many times. And you could have discovered through the years some issues to recollect. Have you ever discovered issues that you should do or keep away from doing whenever you speak to folks in these conditions?

WELLONS: Oh, positively, yeah. You already know, I feel, there are this kid’s dad and mom, and it’s your job to guarantee that they perceive precisely what’s going on. That is one factor that I feel is essential. As a lot as, , you wish to pull the punch or as a lot as you do not wish to need to be saying it or as a lot as you do not suppose that you might take it if it was being advised to you, it is nonetheless your job to guarantee that they know they usually perceive. It does not imply you may’t ship that with out compassion, ? You already know, I am so sorry that – to be having this dialog with you, however your daughter is de facto sick, and we have to get her to the working room proper now.

You already know, so to some extent, ensuring they perceive the scenario is necessary, ensuring that they perceive what the plan is, as a result of my good pal and chairman right here at Vanderbilt, Reid Thompson, talks about there being peace with a plan. And it does not matter if that plan is sitting in a clinic speaking about what the surgical procedure goes to be, or it does not matter if that’s in the midst of the emergency room, attempting to inform any person that you should get their youngster to the working room as quick as doable. As soon as that there’s a plan, , then there is a diploma of peace to say we are actually transferring in direction of decision. I feel that is critically necessary.

DAVIES: You could inform them not solely how critical the scenario is, but in addition the dangers in attempting to resolve it, proper? And generally there are robust selections to make there, proper?

WELLONS: Yeah. No, that is proper. And, , getting consent for surgical procedure is a – is the official time period for saying, , speaking to households or sufferers in order that they perceive what the dangers of surgical procedure are. And for a few of these issues, like life-threatening blood clots, , relying on the place they’re within the mind, there may be some danger that the affected person might not make it via surgical procedure. And so, , fortunately, that is low now with the groups that now we have and the preparation that is accomplished. However on the finish of the day, it will be significant for fogeys to grasp that, too.

And so I feel, , placing all of it collectively, it is ensuring they perceive what is going on on, ensuring what the dangers are, , after which telling them what we’ll do. After which being with them, , not stepping away, , afterwards – , going and speaking to them after surgical procedure after which, , rounding as a lot as you should within the ICU. And I feel that is critically necessary, as effectively.

DAVIES: When a father or mother is distraught and weeping, do you consolation them bodily, I imply, with a – , a hand on the shoulder or a hug? Do you’ve gotten any pointers about that?

WELLONS: Effectively, I imply, , there may be this aequanimitas, , the place – there’s this sort of dispassionate place that you would be able to go to. Over time, , having been a affected person and having youngsters now, I feel after I see any person actually having to handle quite a lot of grief, , I am snug placing a hand on their shoulder and simply saying, I am so sorry that is occurring. After which I will allow them to take it from there. If a hug is what is required, then I’ll give them a hug. You already know, if they need me to face with them in a prayer circle, I’ll definitely stand with them in a prayer circle. And it does not matter which faith of prayer circle that it’s, as a result of that’s an especially necessary a part of folks’s lives. And so I feel there are moral traces drawn, however on the finish of the day, I do not suppose there’s something flawed with, when any person is dealing with grief about their youngster, to indicate some compassion and be actual about it.

DAVIES: Proper. After which generally your phrases do not matter. You describe one scenario through which you actually fled, fearing bodily violence from some indignant dad and mom, proper?

WELLONS: Yeah, that was a troublesome one. That was in my coaching. And it needed to do with a affected person who principally coded on the desk. It was an grownup affected person. And we have been in a position to deliver her again, get her as much as the ICU, get her stabilized, after which make plans to do the neurosurgery once more as a result of it was a coronary heart problem that she’d had. And the night time earlier than we have been going to do the carotid endarterectomy, the place we clear out the carotid to assist forestall a stroke, she principally had an arrhythmia and died.

And, , that is again within the days earlier than cellphones. And we tried to name the household, and we tried to allow them to know. And I used to be strolling down this lengthy corridor after 10 p.m. at night time, and the household form of surrounded me. And there was loads of anger and loads of blaming. And it is an extremely unhappy time that brings out the worst and the very best in folks. However at that second, I noticed that I used to be extraordinarily weak and, , that my white coat didn’t shield me from, , the feelings that come round dying and dying that some folks have.

DAVIES: Yeah. You mentioned you truly ran full pace away from them.

WELLONS: I did, full pace. I imply, I can nonetheless see it in my head. I can nonetheless see that lengthy corridor, the lights, , (imitates buzzing) the lights form of flickering on and off. There’s an exit signal on the finish, and there is a door. And I am like, if I can simply make it to that door, I can shut that door, they usually will not be capable to – it’s going to give me sufficient time to get in my automobile and – , it was simply – it was a outstanding expertise.

MOSLEY: Dr. Jay Wellons talking with Dave Davies. Wellons’ memoir, “All That Strikes Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Sufferers, And Their Tales Of Grace And Resilience” (ph), is now out in paperback. He’ll be again to speak extra after a brief break. And later, Justin Chang will evaluate two new supernatural horror movies. I am Tonya Mosley, and that is FRESH AIR.


MOSLEY: That is FRESH AIR. I am Tonya Mosley. Let’s get again to Dave Davies’s interview with Dr. Jay Wellons. He is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt College Medical Middle and medical director of the Surgical Outcomes Middle for Youngsters, which he co-founded. He has a brand new memoir reflecting on his experiences working on youngsters going through essential diseases and accidents and serving to their dad and mom deal with the wrenching, emotional challenges of getting a baby in mortal hazard. The e book, “All That Strikes Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Sufferers, And Their Tales Of Grace And Resilience” (ph), is now out in paperback.


DAVIES: You already know, we’re used to fashionable drugs having these miraculous methods, however I bought to say – I imply, the outline of your operation on a fetus within the womb was – is fairly mind-boggling. It is a surgical procedure to right a situation that results in spina bifida. You wish to clarify what the situation is that it’s important to right on this circumstance?

WELLONS: Yep, completely. So spina bifida is a situation the place the spinal twine principally doesn’t type usually. And within the first few days after conception because the – , because the cells start to flatten out into this neural plate – that is what it is referred to as. It then rolls up right into a tube, after which our physique is fashioned round this neural tube. Effectively, if that neural tube at across the twenty first or twenty fourth day does not type all the best way and spherical itself up into this tube, then every little thing is fashioned round it, however the nerves do not work. The spinal twine is uncovered to the surface. And there are different issues that may occur from that. Not solely does the kid have danger – , lack of bowel and bladder operate and troublesome with strolling and transferring the legs – however one thing referred to as hydrocephalus, which is an element and parcel for what pediatric neurosurgeons take care of – one thing referred to as hydrocephalus kinds, and that is the place the spinal fluid – it is truly made within the mind – will get backed up.

And so for a lot of, a few years, this was repaired what’s referred to as postnatally, which is, , on this 48 to 72 hours after the newborn was delivered. And, , it is an operation the place the – , you’ve got bought a 38, , week child or a 39-week child, and, , you’ve got bought a large youngster, and also you, , do your restore. You dissect out the factor you should dissect, the neural placode, and also you roll up the dura, and also you do all of the process that you just’re alleged to do.

Effectively, any person had the large concept that – what if we might right this in utero as a fetus? Like, A, can we do it? And, B, does it make an influence? And that any person was a man named Noel Tulipan who labored at Vanderbilt, and he retired a couple of years in the past and, finally, handed away. However earlier than he did, he handed on form of this legacy of fetal surgical procedure. And it is outstanding to be part of this group.

DAVIES: You already know, so this can be a surgical procedure that you have undertaken. The truth is, within the e book you describe doing it in Australia with some surgeons there for the primary time on that continent. So what’s fascinating is that you just’re within the working room, and you are going to do the operation on the fetus, however there’s one other surgical group that has that can assist you get there, proper? I imply, this can be a…

WELLONS: Yeah, that is proper.

DAVIES: …Fairly difficult factor. Type of simply in fundamental phrases, what occurs whenever you do that?

WELLONS: Effectively, the – , the dad and mom are recommended. You already know, they’re – it is decided if we expect, as a group, that there can be a profit to surgical procedure, proper? And so the mother comes into the working room. She goes to sleep. Traces are positioned. Her abdomen is prepped. After which there’s a whole group referred to as MFM, the maternal fetal drugs group. And this occurs throughout all of the completely different establishments round North America – and now the world – which can be doing fetal surgical procedure which have form of rolled out, , after this specific examine got here out that was so, so constructive.

So the stomach is prepped. An incision is made. The uterus is uncovered. It is like a – , like an orange, pink, , soccer ball. And the group will ultrasound the – , the dome of the uterus, discover a good place to open, make the incision, expose the within of the uterus, which is the place the fetus is. And so rapidly at, like, 20 to 22 weeks, , we’re down there taking a look at this little again that is rotated into place. And the – and from that – at that time is after we do the restore of the again to get that closed, in an effort to cut back among the long-term sequela that may happen from spina bifida.

DAVIES: Proper. That is the place you describe discovering this backbone, which you describe as, principally, the dimensions of three grains of rice finish to finish?

WELLONS: Yeah. Yeah. It’s – , it may be – relying on the dimensions of the fetus, it may be actually small, three grains of rice. It may be somewhat bit larger. However more often than not, it is fairly small. And, , we use our magnifying – they’re referred to as loops, these surgical loops, that are magnifying glasses that sit – , that we put on. After which now we have a headlight on in order that we will form of see what we’re doing. I will additionally inform you that as I’ve gotten previous 50, I needed to get a brand new pair of loops that may enlarge it somewhat bit extra for me in order that I might see as a result of it is so small, ?

DAVIES: You describe certainly one of these surgical procedures the place it went in a critically harmful route. The fetus was in a difficult place. You needed to manipulate it a bit. What occurred?

WELLONS: Effectively, , there I’m, ? The entire working room has accomplished their half, and, , in comes the pediatric neurosurgeon, and in comes my assistant, a terrific resident on the time named Becca Reynolds, who finally is now coaching – doing a fellowship 12 months in pediatric neurosurgery. So, , we’re starting the method of attempting to rotate the again up in order that we will have entry to it. And it is onerous, and it retains falling in a unique route, however we’re in a position to get it as much as the place we want it to be.

After which we begin to shut the – , to dissect that irregular neural tissue, the three grains of rice, away from the pores and skin in order that we will, , start to make the closure. And rapidly, Dave, there was only a wash of blood over my knuckles, like a tsunami. And it was in my loops, so it was large, ? It was like – it was – it appeared prefer it was the entire room. And Kelly Bennett, who’s the top of our group, I bear in mind – I imply, her saying, like, we have an abruption; we have to ship the newborn. And at this level, I am holding on, , to the fetus. And she or he’s like, Jay, it’s important to let go. Like, now we have to ship the newborn. And so I bear in mind simply stepping again and watching as all the rest of my group members, like, simply went into the breach, ? Abruptly, the flash of metal, ?

DAVIES: That is what – when the placenta has indifferent, that is what had occurred?

WELLONS: Yeah, principally, what occurred is the placenta had begun to drag away from the uterine wall after which – which causes an enormous quantity of bleeding. And placental abruption is taken into account an emergency for our OB-GYN colleagues, and it is an emergency whenever you’re positively within the working room attempting to do an operation on a fetus. Yeah, that is precisely what had occurred. Placental abruption, it is referred to as.

DAVIES: So that you mentioned you turned a bystander right here, proper?

WELLONS: I did. I did. It took me 5 minutes to understand that I used to be nonetheless standing there holding my microinstruments within the air as all these items have been occurring. Like, three battles raged round me, ? The anesthesia is simply pumping in blood to maintain this younger mom alive. After which the maternal fetal drugs group is squeezing down on the uterus, placing these large, heavy stitches in to attempt to save her uterus. After which behind me, this limp, little 21-week organ, virtually, , was thrust into the arms of the neonatology group that is there, they usually’re placing in tiny, little tubes, they usually’re respiratory little bits of air and placing drugs down the tube. And, , there’s simply three battles raging round me. And I actually, such as you mentioned, am a bystander.

DAVIES: And on this case, they managed to stabilize the mother. She recovered. And the fetus survived, proper? After which – do I’ve this proper? – two days later, when the fetus is stabilized, then you definitely went in and did the surgical procedure?

WELLONS: Effectively, truly, Dave, we did it proper there. You already know, the…


WELLONS: What occurred is that the, , anesthesia was like, I feel we bought management, guys. And I noticed that the MFM group had determined that, hey, we’re going to have the ability to maintain the uterus. And so – after which I appeared behind me, and the neonatology group was calm. Any person even, like, cracked a joke, ? And I used to be simply amazed, , on the – at what it takes. You already know, you apply for this over and over. You already know, airline pilots apply for this. Surgeons apply for this. Numerous folks apply for chaos and for issues to go south. However, , to go from, like, I do not know, the digicam’s on you to rapidly being a bystander and watching the folks that you just labored with for 10 years, like, step into the breach and repair the scenario was fairly superb.

So it was a scrub nurse, Melissa (ph), who was with us. And after we did that Australia journey a couple of years in the past, she noticed me take a look at the newborn, and she or he mentioned, hey, Dr. Jay, I’ve nonetheless bought your devices sterile. I’ve saved them sterile on the again desk. And I went over and requested the neonatology group – I mentioned, hey, , what if I closed the again? May I do this whereas we’re right here? And so they have been like, are you able to do it in 20 minutes? I used to be like, you guess. And so that is what we did. So we bought it closed proper there within the working room, yep.

DAVIES: Is {that a} wholesome particular person right now, that fetus?

WELLONS: Yeah. Ramsay’s (ph) superb.

DAVIES: Wow. Wow.

WELLONS: Yeah, she is. And her dad and mom are simply – they’re simply essentially the most superb folks. They have been simply grateful the entire time. It is simply been a collection of simply shared gratitude between our groups and the households and getting photos of Ramsay. You already know, it is simply terrific, Dave.

DAVIES: Let me reintroduce you. We will take one other break right here. We’re talking with Dr. Jay Wellons. He’s a pediatric neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt College Medical Middle. His new memoir is “All That Strikes Us.” We’ll proceed our dialog after this brief break. That is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: That is FRESH AIR, and we’re talking with Dr. Jay Wellons. He’s a pediatric neurosurgeon at Vanderbilt College Medical Middle. He has a brand new memoir referred to as “All That Strikes Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Younger Sufferers, And Their Tales Of Grace And Resilience.”

You lately revealed a chunk in Time journal, an op-ed piece, about treating youngsters with wounds from gunfire. You observe that you just and different neurosurgeons that – primarily say if politicians might see what we see within the working room, you may take a look at this problem somewhat in a different way. Over time, have you ever seen extra gunshot victims and completely different sorts of accidents?

WELLONS: You already know, I’ve seen, , some actually horrible accidents from gunshot wounds, and it is not particular to assault weapons. However I’ve seen some accidents to the mind and – or to the spinal twine, leaving, , a woman paralyzed, quadriplegic, on a ventilator. And this has simply been half and parcel of a society that has weapons in them. And I grew up as a son of the South. You already know, I speak about within the piece about how I would not too long ago discovered my outdated childhood .22 rifle that I used to take with my dad squirrel searching. And I taught my children learn how to shoot. I taught them learn how to clear it and made certain they understood about learn how to be secure round it.

However, , on the identical time, on the highest of that outdated gun cupboard was a bunch of trophies from my childhood that my, , fantastic dad and mom had saved, and one was the Little League group that I would performed for as a younger boy. You already know, 14 gamers on that group, and the baseball that was sitting on the trophy was signed by all of us. Two of these 14 children died from gun violence earlier than the age of 18. So, , that was 40-plus years in the past.

So these days what we see with these assault weapons is that there is a lot harm. You already know, I’ve a pal, John Martin, who’s the chief of pediatric neurosurgery up at Connecticut Kids’s Hospital, and after the Newtown shootings, he describes all of them gowned up and ready within the hospital for the kids to get there till they realized that no one was actually coming as a result of so many individuals had died. And I simply have a tough time understanding why we want these assault weapons inside society. You already know, they’re designed to – to me, it is three issues, ? They’re excessive capability. They’re maximal velocity. And so they’re low recoil. And the low recoil means that you would be able to keep heading in the right direction and simply pump a bunch of pictures into the identical place. And, , that is loads of destruction, and that is loads of destruction on a baby, and a baby’s not going to outlive that.

And the connection that drugs and conflict, through the years, the place now we have discovered issues from every conflict, now we have in a position to deliver that again to society and say, hey, we all know now learn how to gown a wound, or we all know now the position of antibiotics or the position of steroids or resuscitation. However when these items occur and so many children die on the scene, there’s nothing that we’re studying. There’s nothing to deliver again to society as a result of we do not have the power to say, OK, effectively, we have now discovered X, Y or Z. It simply does not occur due to the damaging power.

DAVIES: One other problem within the information which has medical implications, after all, is the Supreme Court docket’s overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling. Do you anticipate that that can have an effect on your job in any respect?

WELLONS: Man, I bought to inform you, like, I used to be simply – three weeks in the past, I used to be up giving the Mike Scott Lecture at Boston Kids’s Hospital in Harvard. And the very first query that got here on the finish of my 50-minute speak was, what do you suppose goes to occur if the Supreme Court docket overturns Roe v. Wade when it comes to termination for important neural – , neurologic deficits which can be defects? And so it’s on folks’s minds, for certain. And I’ll inform you a narrative about my niece. And my niece has allowed me to speak about this and of – within the technique of writing a chunk about it.

My niece’s title is Chapel (ph). And Chapel referred to as me sooner or later when – after being pregnant for a couple of weeks to say, I am with the OB. We have simply accomplished our 13-week ultrasound. And so they say that there is a downside with the mind. And so they say that I would like to come back see you, Uncle Jay. And, effectively, we get her into the fetal clinic. We do the ultrasound. I am proper there with them the entire time. This – , my niece, who I’ve recognized since she was a child, my youngsters walked in her marriage ceremony – and there is this encephalocele. It is large. And all the mind is on the surface of the cranium, and it is form of everted. So now, it is also on the mercy of the amniotic fluid, which is that caustic fluid that will get extra caustic over time, which is why fetal surgical procedure for spina bifida makes a distinction.

So, , in that state of affairs, the alternatives are to have a baby that’s finally born that is in fixed ache, that has no potential to speak or see or work together with the world round them. They’re in a wheelchair, the kind of wheelchair that holds your neck nonetheless. They’ve G-tube feedings. And over time, they by no means develop up from being a child. They’re – they turn into adults who’ve that diploma of care that is wanted. And in conditions like this earlier than, with different sufferers, we have talked about termination, and that is what we talked about with my niece. And , quick ahead the story two years – within the hospital throughout pandemic with a wholesome child that they’ve had and a second child that they’ve had. And it is only a tremendously completely different path.

And I simply – I am unable to inform you how a lot I feel that this ruling goes to have an effect on what it is like for households to have these substantial – neurologic, cardiac, urologic – encephaloceles the place the intestine’s exterior the physique that’s onerous to be fastened generally. Like, we’ll see much more of those now, and we’ll need to, as a society, perceive that we’ll need to handle these youngsters. That is our job. So, sure, I feel it may have an effect.

DAVIES: Effectively, Dr. Jay Wellons, thanks a lot for talking with us.

WELLONS: Thanks, Dave. It has been a very super honor for me to be right here with you right now and be on FRESH AIR.

MOSLEY: Dr. Jay Wellons spoke with Dave Davies. Wellons is a professor of neurological surgical procedure on the Monroe Carell Jr. Kids’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and the Vanderbilt College Medical Middle. And he is medical director of the Surgical Outcomes Middle for Youngsters, which he co-founded. His memoir, “All That Strikes Us: A Pediatric Neurosurgeon, His Sufferers And Their Tales Of Grace And Resilience” (ph) is now out in paperback.


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