A couple months ago I was browsing Facebook for the latest news and happened upon a post that made me cry. And so now I sit, crying as I write this latest post. They are tears of sadness but also of joy and happiness. My pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Hudson Allender, has seen his last patient and has hung up his stethoscope for the last time. 

When you are born with congenital heart disease, you don’t just see your doctor once a year. In fact, you see them so often the doctor almost becomes a family member. And that is what Dr. Allender had become – family.

I think that all doctors work hard to keep their relationships professional; however, when you treat children with complicated diseases, that becomes hard to do – especially for the patient’s family. That’s true for my family when I was a little girl. My parents have always had such great respect for this man and I grew to adore him as well. He had such great wisdom and insight when he sent my family to Boston Children’s back in the early 90’s knowing that my case was too complicated for the hospitals here in Dallas and Fort Worth.

When Dr. Allender made the decision to take on a leadership role that required that he no longer see patients many years ago, my mom and I cried for what seemed like weeks. Although he was not my primary doctor, my family stayed in touch with him. 

But shortly after I started college, I got great news – Dr. Allender was seeing patients again! I was so incredibly thankful to be back in his care. And I felt his pride in me for every milestone that I accomplished moving from childhood into adulthood. 

I think he knew that many of his patients, including me at one time, might not see their next birthday or their next year in school. I’m sure there were many restless nights spent thinking about a particular child in his care. And I’m positive that he shed many tears over the years when he lost a patient who battled, yet lost their war against heart disease.

And if I’m honest, I sometimes forget about the children that have lost their battle against CHD. When I step back and really think about them, so many of them, I’m overwhelmed. 

When I was a little girl in the late 80’s and early 90’s, my parents had doctors say to them, “enjoy your daughter – you don’t have much more time with her.” Back then medicine just wasn’t what it is today, and I know how blessed I am to be alive.

One of my favorite memories in recent times with Dr. Allender was when Josh and I were first engaged. He found out and his feelings were hurt that Josh didn’t ask him for permission to marry me. It was so cute. From time-to-time I remind Josh how he forgot to ask.

It was that same doctor’s visit that he quizzed Josh on what my diagnosis actually was (I might have told him that Josh didn’t know). Josh’s answer: “bum ticker.” He chuckled and then informed him of the medically proper diagnosis. “You need to know if you are going to marry Katie,” he told Josh. Yet Josh still likes to tell people my diagnosis is “bum ticker.”

How do you say thank you to a man who devoted his entire career to saving the lives of children and serving families when he doesn’t even know what lies ahead for their child’s future? How do you say ‘thank you’ for the many times he had to walk into a room and comfort new parents just learning what CHD is and what it means for their child’s life? How do I say thank you for telling my parents to take me to Boston Children’s – something that saved my life. How do I say thank you for the many wonderful experiences I have had: high school friends, great meals, fun and laughter, graduating college, seeing exciting places and incredible things, marrying the love of my life and becoming a mom. How do I say thank you for all of that?

My mom always said that meeting Dr. Allender was God answering our prayers. And as a woman of faith, I was thinking about the verses in the Bible that describe Dr. Allender, and this one came to mind:

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Matthew 25:21 

Dr. Allender, you have served your community well with what the Lord has gifted you. Thank you for not only being a doctor, but being a man that cares about each and every patient and their family with the love of Christ. You also took such great care of your nurses and valued their opinions and work. 

I’m thankful for all the good visits and hard conversations that you had with my family. For the excellent Donald Duck impression you did when I was little. For the hard conversations we had about if I should carry my own child or not. Thank you from the bottom of my broken (fixed) heart.

And what about your family? Thank you to Mrs. Allender and your children for the sacrifices they made. I know there were many holidays and special events that were missed because you needed to help yet another family. I’m sure explaining to your children about why dad couldn’t make it again was really tough on your family. So to you, thank you for sharing your dad with other children who needed him. I know it must have not been easy. Thank you from the bottom of my broken heart.

Dr. Allender, my prayer for you is that you love your retirement and get some rest. I hope you enjoy this new chapter in your life knowing that you made a difference to so many people in this world.

And for the new parents who just got news that your child has CHD, we are here for you. I’m praying for you as you walk this hard journey with your child. The best advice I can give you is to find a doctor who cares about your child as much as they do their own child. Make sure they aren’t afraid to be honest with you, because the road ahead can look very scary sometimes. And make them family, because they are going to be in your child’s life for many years to come! 

Dr. Allender … thank you.

If you want to know more about congenital heart disease go to www.heart.org

If you are looking for a good book to read about CHD, I would recommend Healing Hearts, by Dr. Nikaidoh. It’s a wonderful read for anyone dealing with CHD. Warning, you will cry. 

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