menopausebarbees
... the tales of two sisters

Dana lives in Seattle, and Tracie lives in Germany. We are businesswomen, writers and humorists. We write about life, dating, and today's modern women.

The Heroes Amongst Us

The World Lost One of My Heroes a couple of days ago.

Marc, my son, sent me an image of the social media announcement. 

And I cried.

Tears of sadness, tears of happiness, and tears of thankfulness. This man whopassed away saved my son’s life.

Dr. Aldo Castañeda joined the angels in Heaven on May 1.

My Hero.

Dr. Castañeda is known as the father of neonatal corrective surgery. He ushered in a new era of procedures for the primary correction of complex cardiac defects, rather than further reliance on palliation.

A pioneer in pediatric cardiac surgery, Dr. Castañeda honorably held the position of 74th president of The American Association for Thoracic Surgery and was the 8th recipient of the Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He established a premier training center for young surgeons, more than 40 of whom are now chiefs of pediatric cardiac surgical programs around the world. His relentless search for better ways to manage even the most complex defects defined his program at Boston Children’s Hospital as one of the most innovative and influential programs in the world. And this is where I had the profound luck to find him: at Boston Children’s.

I came across Dr. Castañeda 27 years ago at a time when I had no internet, no social support groups, and no idea that I should do any of the things that parents are advised to do today when prepping their children for surgery. Armed with only a prayer, I simply hand wrote Dr. Castañeda a letter asking if he could help my son.

Excerpt from Incompatible with Nature-Against the Odds: A Parent’s Memoir of Congenital Heart Disease:

“Dear Dr. Castañeda,

my name is Tracie Frank Mayer. I am an American living in Cologne, West Germany. I have read in an American magazine that you have been named as one of the outstanding heart surgeons in America. I have, therefore, forwarded my son’s medical reports to you in the hopes that you can, if you will, with this limited information, give me your opinion.

At this time, Marc is nine years old. As you can see in the medical reports, he has had two palliative surgeries. With his hemoglobin values rising the past years (now between 18 and 19.8) and his oxygen saturation between 77 and 81, the doctors here in Cologne believe the time is again approaching for us to once again prepare for surgery.

With this limited information here, Dr. Castañeda is it possible that you could suggest a particular operative procedure that would be beneficial to my son?

I am sincerely grateful for your time and attention, and a healthy happy new year from my family to yours,

Tracie,

January 14, 1994

A week later this happened:

“Hello?”

“Yes, hello,” a voice said through the telephone. “May I speak with Tracie Mayer?”

“Yes, this is she speaking,” I said.

“This is Dr. Castañeda calling from Boston.”

There was a stunned silence as I felt my skin pimpling into gooseflesh.

“Dr. C . . . Castañeda?” I glanced at the receiver. Had I heard correctly?

“Dr. Castañeda? This is the Dr. Castañeda, the heart surgeon from Boston, the one I wrote a letter to, that I’m speaking with, right now?”

“ Yes, I do think we might be able to help your son.”

Imagine that.

Dr. Castañeda was awarded the World Heart Foundation Humanitarian Award and has been named an honorary member of more than 20 professional societies around the world. The reverence in which his trainees held him resulted in the creation of the Aldo Castañeda Society, which has subsequently transformed into the World Society for Pediatric and Congenital Heart Surgery.

Over the years, I kept in touch with him,  exchanging letters. That he actually took the time to answer my letters still stumps me.

I am extremely grateful for all the awards I have received for my book, and I am so very humbled by the appreciation and thanks from the families who have reached for our story for support on their journey. 

And then this:

When I immediately googled images of Dr. Aldo Castañeda upon his passing, I was shocked to see numerous pictures of Marc and me, my books in English and German–even a picture of Mama and Daddy holding Marc alongside his pictures.  To be on the same page with this great surgeon, this great humanitarian,  this great man is simply overwhelming, and it takes my breath away.

Dr. Castañeda. 

May his soul and spirit be eternally blessed. To say thank you would never, ever, ever be enough.