Homage to a Hero: Dr. Robert Kelly

Dr. Robert checks on Rudy
Dr. Robert checks on Rudy

I’ve written of the due diligence we did upon learning of Rudy’s diagnosis in utero.  To receive a diagnosis of Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome was to find ourselves in a scramble to get conversant in a world we previously knew nothing about.  Within a short time, we knew enough to understand the importance of cardiologists and cardio-thoracic surgeons, but beyond that we barely knew what questions to ask.  As we started to head in UCLA’s direction, a doctor friend here in Santa Barbara noted that it is a Level 1 Pediatric Trauma Center which means that it has the highest level of resources for dealing with kids in critical circumstances.  I didn’t think much of it at the time, figuring it would be a given that UCLA would be among the more advanced hospitals in southern California.  But beyond that, I didn’t know there were levels and that they stood for something. 
 
I didn’t know there were doctors known as “Intensivists” who specialize in the care of critically ill patients.  While Dr. Reemtsen is the quarterback of the team (Rudy is “his patient”) and he and the cardiologists track him with great care and are involved in every decision, it’s the Intensivists that never leave him.  Attending Intensivists take charge for seven days at a time and are supported by Fellows who are present around the clock to keep watchful eyes on patients whose conditions don’t distinguish between waking and sleeping hours. 
 
We’re not sure how rotations and schedules are set, but somehow Dr. Robert Kelly is one of two attendings who have pulled the majority of the shifts while Rudy has been in the CTICU.  In a place where the line between life and death is regularly skirted and parents are pitched about in the accompanying throes of emotion, Robert walks calmly and methodically; a man who’s found bedrock and, by virtue of the fact that he’s securely anchored there, can keep a steady course while we flail about.
 
On a Sunday early on we discovered a mutual love for the New York Giants which led us to discover that, we too, share roots in North Jersey.  On the surface, Robert appears a straight arrow.  I would suspect he’s always been one except that he attended the Catholic boys’ school my parents always threatened to send me to.  Maybe there’s a sinister past we don’t know about that required Benedictine reforming.
 
Among other things, Robert’s calm demeanor in the CTICU comes from a base of knowledge and competence.  A typical morning round at Rudy’s bedside is an introduction to a new language; a flood of terms, numbers and instructions (and I’m only listening to one patient’s worth).  Everyone in the huddle tracks along and I try to nod knowingly with my most intelligent expression hoping I’ll remember the big words long enough for Robert to stop by.  He understands them well enough to explain them to me and has the patience to do so multiple times if necessary.
 
Rudy’s situation is complex and patients in his condition do not follow a scripted course of treatment.  It is a journey of debate and discovery and Robert is often a central player; secure in what he knows, but welcoming of other opinions; able to draw on a wealth of personal knowledge but also willing to research diligently.  It’s navigated best by someone who is able to keep the patient clearly in view and desires to marshal any and all resources and expertise on their behalf.  I’ve come to trust that Robert tends to be right most of the time, but love the fact that he cares less about this than Rudy getting what’s right.
 
Robert seems to be very aware of Rudy’s condition whether he’s on duty or not.  More than once I’ve come across him somewhere in the hospital on an off week and it’s clear he stays as current on the charts as if he rounded with the team.  It’s not like his “weeks off” from us are devoid of intensity as he spends most of them on duty with the transport team where the next phone call could see him rushing to the helicopter to bring in a child in critical need.  
 
I’m always struck when Robert comes in to see Rudy as it’s a man about my size who fills the doorway.  While my hands have been compared to Paleolithic tools, his go very gently over Rudy’s body and navigate deftly around the wounds, wires and tubes.  The stethoscope is carefully cleaned to make sure it’s sterile, but also so it’s warmed and doesn’t startle Rudy.  As he finishes up the exam, his eyes sweep the room from monitor to monitor and pump to pump.  I’ve come to believe that he knows what just about every one of these numbers should be, but such things always bear verification.
 
It was observed that Robin Hood’s trusted sidekick, Little John, was anything but little.  Not noted for the flamboyance of his leader, John’s reputation was that of a “stout, loyal fellow”, so I draw the parallel to Robert for reasons beyond physical stature.  As a parent thrust into the world of the CTICU, flamboyance counts for very little, but stoutness and loyalty mean everything.  Robert’s steadiness and unwavering commitment to Rudy, and thereby our family, are things we will be forever grateful for.
 

2 thoughts on “Homage to a Hero: Dr. Robert Kelly

  1. I second that emotion. Dr. Kelly is a gentle comfort in a uncomfortable situation. I am so glad you have him to rely on. He is so soft spoken and knowledgable and I whole heartly trust him to do what is right for Rudy. Im glad he is there for you all and we are sending positive thoughts and prayers. 🙂

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