McMaster University

McMaster University

Making A Difference: Dr. John VanderMuelen

Dr. John VanderMuelen shares a story of patient for whom he truly made a difference.“First and foremost, we come here as physicians. There are many other things that we do—we pass on skill sets and education and contribute new knowledge and try to make a difference—but I think at the end of the day we are physicians to each individual patient that we deal with. And that’s really what it’s all about.

And sometimes there’s a lot of noise that gets in the way of that, and other things that we are expected to do that can get in the way. But that’s fundamentally what we are and everything else is built on that foundation: providing expert care.

And there are lots of individual patient stories over the years that I think anyone in the department could point to and say they are very proud of, where they feel they really made a difference. That’s a phrase that’s thrown around liberally at times, but you know, you really can point to situations ”where you feel you made a difference.“

This year I got a Christmas card from a family that I hadn’t heard from in a number of years. This little boy, he had profound hypoglycemia in the newborn period from hyperinsulinism. And we didn’t understand neonatal hyperinsulinism back then the way we do now, and we had different treatment strategies in our toolbox, and we threw absolutely everything at him. His Dad was Mennonite and was in furniture making, but he had trained as an ICU nurse in the states, so he had a relevant skill set that allowed us to really do some exceptional things not only in hospital, but to transfer that into a whole new environment.

The surgeons were hovering the whole time wanting to take this child’s pancreas out, but we held out with maximum therapy. Insulin pumps were just new at that time, and we were putting glucagon into the insulin pumps, and we were doing all kinds of stuff to keep this kid going. And eventually he actually got better. It took me until he was aged 4 or 5, but we saved his pancreas and he’s developmentally normal, and he’s doing great.

I just saw a picture of him a few weeks ago the parents sent. And, you know, they are so grateful, I’m sure [the child] doesn’t really realise what was involved. But, you know, we can all point to a handful of stories where you just know you made a huge difference and it was really appreciated. And you know you don’t need many of those
to kind of justify your career.”

- Dr. John Vandermuelen

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