Thursday, October 8, 2009

Big Al

My husband often makes fun of me because I peruse the obituaries in the newspaper every day. He calls it the Irish Sporting Green (or sports page for those of you who didn’t grow up with the SF Chronicle – it’s actually green) It’s a habit I developed long ago. It is amazing how often I see a name I recognize, usually someone distant. If you are close to the person, you don’t need to read it in the paper because you already know.

Today was different. I read that someone died who remains very important to me, even though I have not seen or talked to him in a few years.

His name is Dr. Al deLorimier. I met him about 12 hours after Maggie was born. He was a pediatric surgeon, not just any pediatric surgeon, but one very well known all over the world. Maggie was born with so many problems and needed immediate surgery to survive. Our pediatrician told us Dr. DeLorimier was the best. He had to come over from UCSF (Maggie was born at a different hospital) and everyone was excited that he was coming. Several of the nurses in the NICU had worked with him over the years and everybody knew who he was.

We waited anxiously for this great guy to arrive. We put him on a pedestal based on all the wonderful things we heard. He was going to save our new baby girl. I asked a nurse when the surgery would start and she said, “ I’m not sure, no one has heard from Big Al yet. “ Steve and I looked at each other. This great surgeon – one of the best in the world -- was “Big Al.” I pictured a guy wearing greasy coveralls in a garage and Steve pictured Al Capone. Neither image was particularly comforting. The pedestal shook a little bit.

Then he walked in. Dr. deLorimier was tall and handsome and completely in charge, but didn’t have an ounce of arrogance. He was Big Al. He talked to us about what he had to do, drew pictures of what Maggie’s anatomy looked like and what it was supposed to look like. He calmed our fears and went to work. I asked how long the surgery would be and he said simply “I don’t look at the clock.” It was the perfect answer and, to this day, I think of that every time Maggie is in the hospital. I can ignore the time because it just doesn’t matter.

Dr. deLorimier operated on Maggie for about 5 hours that day and at least 12 additional times after that. He treated Maggie with incredible respect; he treated her as a person, not as a baby and certainly not as a baby with problems. He also treated us with respect and made himself available to assist us in more ways than I could ever recount. He intervened with insurance companies, and other doctors. His staff, including his wife, was accommodating and helpful. I had his home phone number and even after he retired, I called him for advice once or twice. This just doesn’t happen. He knew Maggie’s unusual anatomy better than anyone, because he had seen every part of it; and when doctors wouldn’t listen to me he talked to them about why Maggie had to be treated differently.

He also adored Maggie. As a mom, you just have to love a guy who loves your baby. He probably made that connection with a lot of patients and their families, but we always felt special. Of course, most people do not get to know their surgeon quite as well as we did. Most kids do not need repeated surgeries like Maggie did.

There is no way to describe what this man meant to us. Dr. DeLorimier saved my daughter’s life and he did it over and over again. He and her pediatrician, Eileen Aicardi, are the reasons Maggie survived those first few years. They did their jobs better than anyone else could have and taught me how to do mine. Dr. DeLorimier retired when Maggie was about two and a half but he operated on her at least 13 times in those 30 months. He owned a winery and went from saving the lives of children to improving the lives of adults. We visited him at his winery a couple of times and still exchanged Christmas cards but I have not seen on talked to him in several years now. He was never far from my heart, though.

I wish his family, and especially his wife Sandy, well in this difficult time. He was a great man. He was a great surgeon. In this house (and probably hundreds of others) he has a very special place, and always will.


  1. Hi Sally,

    I'm one of Dr. de Lorimier's nieces. I just wanted you to know how much this story made my day. My Uncle Al was a great guy. I'm glad to know others think so too.

    Thank you again,
    Kristine de Lorimier Dworkin

  2. Kristine, I'm so glad you posted. There are only a couple of people in my life outside of family that meant so much to me. Your uncle was one of them and I'm so sorry he's gone. My best to the family. Sally McDonald


Hi Maggie loves your comments. It may take a while for the comment to post, but you will see it eventually.