Finest Doctors 2017: Memorable Moments

We asked 10 doctors to share with readers a memorable day or experience in their medical careers.

Dr. Mark Socinski

Medical Oncologist, Executive Medical Director, Florida Hospital Cancer Institute, Florida Hospital Medical Group​

I had a patient several years ago with metastatic lung cancer. She was in her 60s, the beloved matriarch of a large family, and very involved in her community. We came to a point where we had exhausted the standard options to treat her cancer. She was understandably depressed and started withdrawing from her active life. Looking for a new avenue, we performed molecular testing and found a rare mutation. She agreed to try an experimental drug that was ultimately effective. A year later, I asked her to tell me the biggest difference in her life since starting the treatment. She said: "Hope." For the first time since being diagnosed, she felt hopeful, like she had a future. Still on the medication today, she's re-engaged with the people and hobbies she loves. As an oncologist, I know one of the most powerful things I can provide is that simple: hope.

Dr. Sonalee Shroff

Medical Oncologist/Hematologist, Florida Cancer Specialists​

Oncology is truly a unique area of medicine. The diagnosis and treatment of cancer is a journey for both the patient and me. The process is an emotional rollercoaster. Initially, we discuss diagnosis, treatment and outcomes. We bond through the years together. They know my good days and bad days and I know theirs. I learn not only about their cancer, but also celebrate their milestones. Years ago, I met a young college student and diagnosed her with stage IV Hodgkin's disease, a type of cancer of the lymph system. Despite feeling poorly from her treatment, she continued to study and ultimately became a physician’s assistant. She is now married, and a mother, and continues to do well. It amazes me that her life path was redirected by our care and now she is changing the lives of other patients with her care. Our patients are courageous people. They inspire me every day to want to come to work. Their fight is my fight and we walk this path together.

Dr. Steven Hoff

Cardiovascular Surgeon, Orlando Health Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Practice

If laughter is the best medicine, humility is the best way to practice medicine. I learned this lesson in medical school. Working alongside a world-renowned cardiac surgeon during a bypass surgery, I saw firsthand the expertise of one of the giants in cardiac surgery. But there was more. He was the most humble, kind, respectful gentleman I had ever met. In the 1980s, this was a unique combination, in contrast to the more hardened perception of surgeons. Seeing his interactions with others has been a lasting influence—motivating me to combine clinical excellence with compassion to patients I care for and team members I work with each day. Beyond the lessons learned from textbooks, lectures, and experiences in the operating room that summer, I learned the importance of offering support in a stressful work environment, and showing genuine concern to patients facing difficult medical conditions. It made me a better surgeon.

Dr. Steven McCarus

Gynecologic Surgeon, McCarus Surgical Specialists for Women, Florida Hospital Medical Group​

In my 18 years with Florida Hospital Medical Group, I've taken care of thousands of women. It has always been my great honor to serve these patients. When the tables turned and my wife— who is also a gynecologist—needed specialized health care, I found myself on the other side of the equation in our system. Beyond the excellent medical care she received, I was humbled by the support and comfort provided by her team to our family. We felt lifted up in what, as it would be for anyone, was a stressful time. It was an "ah-ha moment" for me, to be reminded of the significant difference a physician can make in a patient's life—not just in their disease. I continue to be mindful of this and am committed to providing the same level and quality of health care to my own patients.

Dr. Jennifer Thielhelm

Pediatrician, Orlando Health Physician Associates

It is such a blessing to be a pediatrician and witness so many moments that take my breath away—from the first encounter with a newborn to the ultimate compliment and trust in the return of a former patient bringing in their own new miracle for that first checkup. One of my most memorable moments is an experience of true strength and courage I saw in an 11-year-old girl dying of a malignant brain tumor. As she sat on the exam table in my office, she told me, "God needs a new angel now and I am ready to go but I worry how sad my parents are." This young person believed she had an amazing life and had only thankfulness in her heart. Moments like these have inspired me to strive to be a better person and doctor, focused on the beauty and goodness in everything and the importance of every day.

Dr. Fortune Alabi

Pulmonologist, Florida Lung, Asthma & Sleep Specialists

Twenty years ago, as a young doctor, I suddenly found myself on the other side of the fence. I had received sad news from my sister that my niece was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a kind of brain tumor. I felt overwhelmed and helpless, as if all of my medical knowledge had suddenly disappeared. It was a trying time for my family, with lots of questions that needed immediate answers. Thankfully, the team of physicians at Texas Children’s Hospital was very knowledgeable. They were also extremely kind, compassionate and caring, and I learned a very valuable lesson that cannot be taught in medical school—that care must be provided with compassion. This was a turning point for me and forever changed the way I perceive patient care. Compassionate care is the cornerstone of my practice, and deeply rooted in who I am as a doctor. Our patients are our family, and that is how we should treat them.

Dr. Miles Landis

Pediatrician, Lake Mary Pediatrics, Florida Hospital Medical Group

Seeing my patients grow and thrive each year is the most fulfilling part of my job as a pediatrician. Whether it's a new mother who masters feeding her baby, a sick child who thinks I am a real-life "Doc McStuffins," or a lifelong patient heading off to college—these are all moments I cherish. Recently, I saw a three-week old baby for his first doctor's visit. He was obviously a good eater and energetic. He had gained weight from his previous visit, but not quite to the level I would have expected. I performed the same well-baby exam that has become automatic after 30-plus years. This time, something was different—I could not feel the baby's femoral pulses. A visit to the cardiologist confirmed severe narrowing of his aorta. Delay in catching this would have meant heart failure and perhaps organ damage. Instead, surgery allowed blood to flow and a lifetime of memories to start.

Dr. Alexandra Osorio

Diagnostic Radiologist, Sand Lake Imaging

I'll always remember the special day of my birthday several years ago. I was dining out with my family and after the waiters came out with a small piece of cake and sang “Happy Birthday,” a woman came over and said to me: "Dr. Osorio, right?” I was shocked and nodded as I looked at my family. She proceeded to tell me, "I want to thank you! You found my breast cancer. You spoke to me and answered my questions. Thanks to you I can also celebrate my birthday with my family." It was an amazing moment that still today brings tears to my eyes. Even though our encounters with patients as radiologists is brief or at times non-existent, it matters and should never be disregarded.

Dr. Daniel J. Podberesky

Nemours Children's Health System

The most memorable days in my career have been those when, in the midst of interpreting dozens of routine radiology exams, I discover something completely unexpected. It could be a subtle finding that requires further investigation, or an unexpected, major abnormality that has life-changing consequences and needs immediate attention. As a pediatric radiologist, I spend a lot of time reviewing exams for patients across our entire enterprise, and I rarely see the direct impact on children and families when I find an unexpected abnormality. In that moment, when I flag something serious on a scan, I know that everything about this family’s life will be turned upside down. However, despite knowing the ripple effects of my discovery, it is precisely those moments that are the most rewarding for me because now the family can get proper treatment for their child, and I know I have made a positive, perhaps lifesaving, difference.

Dr. Don Eslin

Pediatric Oncologist and Hematologist, Haley Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children

Almost 7 years ago, a 2-year-old boy in California was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma. He unfortunately relapsed and, after several experimental treatments failed, his mother was told there was nothing else that could be done. Her options were to either seek hospice care or look for another hospital with a clinical trial. Not willing to give up, she drove across the country to Arnold Palmer Hospital to enroll her son in one of our neuroblastoma clinical trials. Another mom at our hospital who had recently lost her child to cancer “adopted” this family, comforting and even housing them during this challenging time. Today, almost 5 years after starting this trial, this boy is not only alive but thriving! It’s been amazing to play a role in his journey, and his story reminds me why I do what I do—to help children live better, happier lives.”

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