On Monday, July 5, 2021, Sean Hannity did an hour long interview with Dr. Eduardo Rodriguez of NY Langone. The story and interview were incredible. Worthy of a repeat on Youtube if you missed it the first time.
But I have to tell you about Dr. Eddie.
Gunner was in 2nd grade, playing Little League Baseball/Soccer/Football, etc., with every other kid in the surrounding community. We are located in a small town, Mississippi, where everyone knows everyone else. To compound the “familiarity”, I was a parent of a small child – which means you know all other parents with children the same age. When Gunner was 1yr and 10months, he went to a “twos” program at the Baptist Church, repeated 2yr olds, then did the 3yr old program. At 4yrs old, he went to a private academy for their 4K program. Yes, by the time Gunner was ready for Kindergarten, I could have put him through 4yrs at a state college for the same amount of money……… but it meant we became familiar with the parents….. and had spent 4yrs getting to know them, going to birthday parties/field trips/play dates/parades/fairs, etc.
These are the GROWN young men who are still friends and today; they’ve spent over 20yrs with each other. There are no more family secrets. Everyone knows the history of each family. It’s just the way it is.
Even by 2nd grade, these were kids (and their parents) who had already spent many years together.
Dylan (using this name for this story) was overly blessed with boyishness. He had a shock of white-blond hair, deep blue eyes which he squinted in the sun, and he was fearless. NOTHING stopped Dylan. I love that kid. His Mom is a GREAT Mom, no nonsense, extraordinarily patient and supportive, brilliant when it came to juggling many kids with busy schedules – she could have run a division for the Army with ease – a real joy to be around. I like her – great girlfriend.
Dylan’s Dad was a volunteer fire-fighter, as are many of the men in town. He had a successful daytime career, when tragedy struck the family. Dad was at a multiple alarm fire, surrounding towns responding, when the fire overwhelmed the firemen inside the building and the roof collapsed. Dylan’s Dad (We’ll call him Robert-not his real name) made the mistake of taking off his mask. His entire face suffered 3rd degree burns, no eyelashes, eyebrows, and we wondered if he would live through the night.
Of course, the news spread quickly and we were all concerned about Robert…. the kids…. the whole family.
Robert did live, but it was a long comeback and recovery. Robert was the same fellow, inside, but to a stranger, he looked like a Freddie Krueger from the movie Halloween. The local townspeople didn’t give a damn how Robert LOOKED, cuz we all knew him. We knew what he looked like “before” the accident and loved and admired him. Unfortunately, he had to wear a hat, long sleeves, sunglasses, and usually a scarf around his neck to protect his tender skin………. even when it was 95 degrees in the shade on a football field. It didn’t matter to Robert, he was there, at every game Dylan played……….. and Robert was a helluva coach for the other kids as well.
In fact, ALL the kids loved Robert and his “appearance” wasn’t an issue to the kids.
At roughly the same time, there was a young resident surgeon, working in Korea, on advanced neuro replacement therapies. He was reconnecting veins, tendons, muscles, by reattaching thousands and thousands of connections. Dr. Eddie started small, and could make a hand work again…… Amazing medical advancements. Dr. Eddie’s work began in South Korea.
Flash forward to Gunner in 8th grade. The kids were still friends, knew each other, different schools but played sports together. Robert and wife divorced. He remarried and failed at that marriage and blew through the funds of a structured settlement…… when the members of his church, the same Baptist Church where Gunner went to pre-school, decided to intervene.
The Church members wrote a letter to Dr. Eddie because one member had read a story about his work. He had moved from South Korea and was currently at Johns Hopkins. The Church implored Dr Eddie to take on Robert….. for a face transplant. At the time, there had only been TWO done in the entire world.
Well, Dr Eddie decided to accept Robert, from our little town. Yet, we had no idea what all the surgery would entail. It was as though ALL of us went through the process together. Community and family were interviewed to gauge support for Robert during what would be a year of surgery and recovery. His finances were examined, stability was imperative. There were MONTHS of interviews with Dr Eddie’s team, to see if Robert would be suitable, PLUS all the medical tests Robert had to endure.
Finally, the day came when Dr Eddie, and his team from NY Langone came to our little town to visit for several days. Of course, they stayed at our B&B.
When I booked the rooms, I laughed out loud. Typical New Yorkers, terrified of coming to Mississippi, loaded with their own preconceived notions of how we would look, what they would do, and, God Forbid, what they would eat.
I received strict instructions from the Coordinator of the team, a prickly middle aged female, many phone calls to confirm menus over the course of weeks. I could not use any butter to make breakfast. They wanted healthy things. She actually asked if there was yogurt available in my town…… No kidding. They wanted Granola and skim milks or fake milk for those who had lactose intolerance. There were those who were allergic to various things and I had to accommodate…. and kind of….. turn the house upside down on their behalf. THEN, came the countless questions from team members about the reliability of hot water in my house, air conditioning, bathrooms, blow dryers………… People are amazing in their preconceived notions…… I smiled and nodded through it all…….. You see………. this was not my first rodeo with urbanites…… I knew they would mellow once they got here and relaxed.
Nonetheless, I went out and bought every kind of yogurt I could find. I MADE two kinds of scratch granola (it was good, too). I stocked the house to the rafters with fresh fruits, all trimmed up so they would not have to peel ANYTHING. I bought FAKE eggs in a milk carton —- can you imagine ME using fake eggs? Trays of exotic cheeses and lean meats for snacks——- and I moved EVERY NUT I HAD in the house to the fridge outside in the game room. Then, banished the cat, who was never allowed in guest/common space anyway….. but I didn’t even want them to SEE A CAT. No allergies…., please.
Have I told you how handsome Dr Eddie is????
OMG, he’s about 6’3″ and Cuban by birth although ZERO accent remains. He OOZES charm from every pore of his body. Charisma on steroids. You know how Cary Grant walked through a room? That’s the way Dr Eddie moved. Completely comfortable in his own skin. I found myself wondering what his wife would be like….. cuz surely, she was a winner in her own right. At one point, I asked him about his wife. He spoke about her in glowing terms. Good husband.
On the other hand, the team around Dr Eddie was all abuzz. They were joined by a professional photography team from ABC News….. and you know how I feel about the press…. I was wrong, however, they were terrific.
They were to be here for about 4 to 5 days. I put on my patience hat and smiled broadly when the doorbell rang. I opened the door to a big fat camera lens………… ABC was “in the house”.
As though it’s a law of nature/physics/the cosmos…….. everyone was LOVELY when they arrived. They were happy to be here after a long trip and got settled quickly. A little sustenance never hurts.
The next morning for breakfast, we put out a spread which looked like I was feeding Olympians who were on a diet. I turned up my nose. It was weird. Everything was COLD. I tried to make a quiche with the fake eggs. It smelled okay, but it sure wasn’t pretty.
One of the news crew guys sauntered into the kitchen early, hunting for coffee. He was nice, asked me what I usually made for breakfast. I told him and I must have been wearing my sad face…… He decided he wanted REAL breakfast with butter and BACON. I was happy. Plus, I had me and Big T + Gunner to feed, so I whipped up a batch of our German Pancakes and put a half pound of bacon in a skillet.
And it started…… death by Bacon Smell.
There’s this “thing” in our house, probably the same in most houses….. It’s impossible to put coffee on, with bacon frying, and keep people OUT of the kitchen.
At the breakfast table, the staff for Dr Eddie was trying so hard to be good and eat healthy. They had their big bowls of fruit/yogurt and granola. When I brought out the plate for the news guy…….. they all went…. sad face….. lower lip out….. pouting. One woman asked for “just a nibble” of a pancake to see what it tasted like. His extra pancake was cut into 7 pieces for “others”. Another woman decided she wanted a pancake. I gave her my breakfast, real eggs, pancake and bacon. She was thrilled but objected….. “Oh, I didn’t ask for bacon.”, ……but she ate it all.
Everyone was waiting for Dr. Eddie to come to the table but he kept talking….. gosh, he was charming. When he sat down, he pointed to the news guy’s plate and said he wanted THAT breakfast. Clearly, all the requests for healthy twigs and bark to eat had been thrown out the window. Staff trying to overcompensate for what they THOUGHT Dr Eddie wanted……….. when Dr Eddie knew exactly what he wanted.
At one point, Eddie tugged on my sleeve….. “When I make pancakes at home, the edges are soft and floppy. How do you get the edges to crisp up like that?” He was pointing at the crumbs left on his plate. I had a hard time visualizing this man making pancakes for the kids on Sunday morning…. “What did you do them?” he said. I smiled broadly and replied, “The secret is a hot skillet and….”, I leaned over to whisper in his ear, “Butter”. He leaned back and winked at me. He knew.
At one point over the weekend, Gunner decided he wanted to interview Dr Eddie for the school paper. I was over the moon about the idea. How many chances will our kids have to talk to a world class surgeon pioneering a new field of medicine? Historically, it was akin to Gunner being able to sit down and talk to Einstein or Madame Curie. I hoped Dr Eddie’s influence would rub off on Gunner. Wish you all could have seen the face on the ABC News Guy…. His jaw hit the floor.
He had been “scooped” by an 8th grader.
Eddie agreed to do the interview with Gunner, and again, Eddie was majestic/perfect in the way he handled my son. Gunner was nervous about the interview. He asked me for a list of questions which might be good and we went over it for hours. Yet, Dr Eddie handled it with great ease. He suggested they go out on the front porch where they could talk…………. and they talked for almost 45 minutes. What do you suppose 45 minutes of Dr Eddie’s time is WORTH??? It was a basic kindness from a decent man. He didn’t have to spend time with my son. He went out of his way to be benevolent. I thought about how many times our actions speak louder than words. Eddie was “walking the walk”.
Time went on….. the boys graduated high school, and some drifted to college and beyond. I lost track of Dylan and the family. Forgot about the whole incident and catalogued it with other fascinating guests who have graced our home……
……. until July 5th, the day after Independence Day.
I was moving through the house, putting things away, like I’ve done every day for the past 30yrs. The tv was on in the background in the bedroom, I left it on by mistake, and was blaring Hannity’s program.
And there was Dr Eddie.
I wanted to hug him through the television screen. He’s a BIG hugger…..
What an honorable man. He has a blazing intellect in his discipline, obviously, but as a man, he is so much more. He’s patient with kids…. like my son…… which speaks volumes about his character. He’s comfortable in his own skin, which is rare for anyone at the zenith of their career. AND even though people around him fuss and fawn, bow and scrape, he doesn’t care. He’s still humble.
And THAT’s a great leader.
Guess there was no reason for me to change names in this story……… Here is OUR firefighter and the interview.
Here is another interview from years ago – 1yr after the surgery.
The medical advances are nothing less than mind-bending.
Therefore, even though I’m a little late, by at least a decade, I would like to thank Dr Eddie, or Dr Eduardo Rodriguez, AND the WHOLE TEAM for what they did for our beloved firefighter. They’re welcome at my house, any day.
I called my son, Gunner, and he saw part of the interview. When Gunner was in 8th grade, I doubt he understood the implications of his interview. Gunner treated all guests the same way – as we treated all guests the same. Yet, he’s been fortunate to meet some extraordinary Americans along the way. He smiled wistfully with the memory of the time spent on the porch with Eddie. As a grown man, Gunner remembered the interview as “something Mom made me do”. Yet, as a grown man, the influence of Eddie finally had an impact. Sometimes……. kids……. yikes.
Guess we never really know who will cross our door on any given day. Take the time to talk to people, be gracious, and learn from them.