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Surgeon ‘Operates’ on Patient’s Doll So They Have Matching Scars

A Duke pediatric heart surgeon and an entire care team took special measures to ensure that a young patient made a full and positive recovery from heart surgery.

At the patient’s request, Andrew J. Lodge, M.D., operated on an American Girl doll, giving her a vertical scar on her chest similar to her caretaker, patient Mical Olaiz, of Durham.

The 5-year-old girl was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and had open-heart surgery in 2017 to improve her heart’s ability to pump blood to her body. At a follow-up visit to Duke in 2018, Mical told her nurse she wanted her favorite doll Mia to have a matching scar. Nurse Anne Schmelzer contacted Lodge and he agreed to perform the surgery.

Schmelzer has cared for Mical since the patient's birth.

“It was something small to make her doll look just like her, which made us feel good knowing we made a patient smile,” Schmelzer said. “Small gestures to care for kids empowers what we do as nurses, physicians and child life specialists.”

Mical’s whole care team reenacted the surgery with Mia, placing a small cap over her hair, draping her with a paper gown, administering make-believe anesthesia, intubating her and monitoring her vitals for the 15-minute procedure, which they captured on video for Mical to watch later.

Lodge made the incision and placed sutures on the doll’s chest and on her abdomen where a chest tube would also leave a small scar, and bandaged the doll up.

This was the second time Lodge had operated on a doll that was special to a Duke pediatric heart patient. In 2016, he honored the request of Alessia Hassell, a 10-year-old heart transplant recipient, for her doll to also a receive a transplant, which was a plastic heart made by LEGO.

“As surgeons, we frequently deal with issues that extend beyond the surgery itself,” Lodge said. “This includes taking care of the patient and the whole family, and sometimes the social aspects that go along doing major surgery on children. … Doing surgery on the doll is something small we could do to help one of our patients feel a little more comfortable. Perhaps now she has someone at her side she believes she can relate to and who underwent something similar to what she went through herself.”

Mical returned to Duke Hospital on June 1 to pick up Mia, remove her bandage to look at her scar, and to hear instructions on how to care for Mia after surgery, which include lots of hugs, kisses and playtime, Schmelzer explained. (One notable difference: Mical’s parents will not be receiving a bill for the doll’s surgery.)

People online and World News Tonight with David Muir covered the story in more detail.

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