My Most Unforgettable Moment

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Riley kid Matthew Dyer today

I will never forget that day years ago when I met Hope Dyer in a hallway. Her son became the most memorable patient I encountered in my 38 years at Riley Hospital, even though he wasn’t even technically my patient.

I remember noticing that the woman I was passing in the hall looked kind of dazed, so I stopped to see if I could help. When I looked down into the car seat next to her, I truly thought her baby was dead. His color was blue-black.  I remember thinking, “Oh my God, how am I going to tell her?” I introduced myself as I got down on one knee. I touched the baby and he moved a little, so at least I knew he was still alive. 

I had to think quickly and decide whether to take them upstairs to the heart center or rush the baby to the emergency room. I decided on the heart center. I dragged Mrs. Dyer along, trying to reassure her. Once we arrived I said to the nurse across the desk, “This baby needs to see a cardiologist now.” The nurse started to explain the normal procedure, then she took one look at the child in the car seat and said, “I’ll take that baby!” She immediately knew this was a critical situation. Drs. Randy Caldwell and Tim Cordes were right there and immediately started resuscitating him. His pH was something like 6.7 and the blood oxygen extremely low; most doctors who care for adults would say that’s not compatible with life, but it can be in a baby  ̶  sometimes. This baby was probably minutes from death. He scared the daylights out of me.

The cardiology team quickly found that the baby had transposition of the great vessels, which means the two main blood vessels in the heart are reversed. I had assumed the child would have brain damage due to prolonged, severe lack of oxygen. I lost touch with the family after the baby recovered from his heart surgeries and was sent home, but I never forgot them.  

About four years ago, I found a little envelope in my office with a note inside. “Dear Dr. Schreiner,” it said. “I don’t know if you remember me, but when I came to Riley Hospital seven years ago you stopped and grabbed me and took me to the heart center. I just wanted to thank you for saving Matthew’s life.” There was a picture of the boy, who I now know is named Matthew Dyer. He is a beautiful, healthy, smart child. I called Mrs. Dyer that night and we talked about that unforgettable day. I learned the true reason she had appeared to be so dazed:  she hadn’t really slept since Matthew was born, because he was so sick. She told me how terribly guilty she felt that she didn’t bring Matthew to Riley sooner, but how grateful she was that Randy Caldwell had made a point of telling her it was not her fault. She told me if he hadn’t done that, she would have gone crazy. For Randy (who is now the head of cardiology at Riley) to realize that this mother was in such pain, and for him to take that moment to reassure her, proves that he is not just a wonderful doctor, he’s a wonderful human being.  

For every story like this, there are hundreds of others that demonstrate what the spirit of Riley is all about. Yes, we help sick kids heal. But their families need us too. So when you wear a Riley uniform you need to always go about your day ready to help, whether by guiding someone through the winding halls or by giving them words of reassurance that they’ll never forget.

Richard Schreiner, M.D.

Richard Schreiner, M.D., is the former Physician-in-Chief at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Prior to accepting that leadership appointment in 1987 Dr. Schreiner served as a Riley neonatologist. When he retired in 2009, he was the longest-serving pediatrics department chair in the country. He continues to serve as an ambassador for Riley by providing hospital tours and supporting the fundraising mission of Riley Children’s Foundation.

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