The referral on my desk had an unusual name on it. Everaldo C. S. ‘Where is this guy from?’ I wondered. Very quickly my attention was turned to the clinical details: serious valve incompetency problem, the heart muscle had all but given up, co-morbidities.

Just before the festive season 2018. MDT meeting outcome: High risk heart surgery is the only option. Time to meet the patient.

The nurse on the ward warned me: ‘He doesn’t speak any English, only Portuguese, he’s from Brasil. Do you want me to call an interpretor?’ No thank you I smiled back. This should be interesting. (My wife is Brasilian). Everaldo was sitting patiently looking unwell physically and mentally.

His daughter Eliane next to him same apprehensive expression. ‘Bom dia’ I said and watched some reserved contentment spread on their faces. Some restrained awkward half-smiles. The rest of the consult followed. I explained the nature of the operation the risks and benefits. Stressed the possibility of loss of life and other possible problems . They understood and wanted to proceed. No other option really. The window of opportunity was closing fast.

It was a long day in theatre. The operation was technically uneventful (Vlad is a great anaesthetist) but recovery was stormy, as expected. Slow steady progress, a lot of uncertainty, Eliane there every morning maintaining external calmness to keep the internal storm at bay. My emotions mirrored hers: Reserved optimism.

‘God guided your hands’ she told me during one of our conversations. I am not religious but I really wanted to believe that. One by one the organs started recovering first the heart, then the brain, the kidneys, the lungs took a while.

He went home. A few weeks later he came to the outpatient clinic with Eliane and his wife; all was well. The contrast of the faces compared to that first encounter was overwhelming. Broad smiles, tears of joy, genuine burning gratitude reflected from their eyes directly into mine. A relaxed Everaldo with a permanent smile, thirsty to drink life from a big cup.

Eliane said that it was God who had placed me at the right place at the right time to receive the referral, see them and perform the operation. I did not contradict her (why would I). Faith is Faith. In any case who could convince this family that it was just a fortunate coincidence. I for one prefer the divine intervention version of the story.

However my perspective is that if there is one person Everaldo owes his life to that is his Eliane. She insisted (that he sees a doctor), persisted (when predictions were unfavorable) and supported him all the way with commitment, dedication and unwavering hope.

A few weeks prior, when Everaldo woke up in ICU he was crying because he thought he was dying. I told him that he was doing so well that he should be planning to give a party in a few weeks time because I wanted to have a drink with him in his garden. We started laughing and his mood improved. It became our daily private joke during the rest of his stay.

He reminded me of that promise recently.

I still haven’t fulfilled it.

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