Imagine opening a newborn baby's chest and holding his plum-sized heart in your hands, confident that you can repair it and give the child a healthy life.
Meet Dr. Roger Mee, one of the world's top pediatric heart surgeons. Dr. Mee and his team at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio do just that, two or three times a day, five or six days a week. Author Michael Ruhlman spent a year as an embedded observer in this center of excellence, exploring an elite surgical specialty and the professionals who devote themselves to perfecting it.
"Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit" is the wonderful product of that year, and you won't find a more fascinating or inspiring story. Ruhlman gives us a satisfying mix of history, anatomy, biography, and personal interest.
The unit specializes in the repair of congenital heart defects. Each chapter starts with a case or an individual, suffering from or exemplifying some condition. Then the author catalogues the development of treatment options for that condition. Finally, he returns to the clinical setting to finish the story.
Ruhlman discusses medical politics and the story behind outcome statistics. What is the impact on a unit's statistics when that unit is a referral center for the sickest babies? How can a patient -- or a parent -- know the importance of the BEST care versus GOOD care? Thorny questions are raised.
But this is first and foremost the story of New Zealand-born Dr. Mee and his team, and the huge demands they make on themselves every day for the sake of these babies who got an unlucky draw -- at least, unlucky until they come under Dr. Mee's care.
"Walk on Water" is action-packed and sensitively written. If you are interested in medical non-fiction, you WILL be stunned by this book. It's a completely absorbing read and I highly recommend it.
Linda Bulger, 2008