StoryCorps
1:19 am
Fri October 26, 2012

After 30 Years Of Surgeries, Doctor And Patient Dance

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 8:44 am

When Marcela Gaviria was 7 years old, she was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of childhood bone cancer. She survived, and the cancer was cured — but it nearly took her leg.

When Gaviria was 12, she needed a bone transplant and met surgeon Dempsey Springfield, who performed the operation.

"I was pretty scared, I remember, and I think I survived a very sort of traumatic moment 'cause you were so kind," Gaviria, now 43, told Springfield at StoryCorps in Boston.

"What I remember about you were your bow ties. You just looked like such a Southern gentleman, and you'd show up every morning with such a big smile. And you were so warm and gentle, and I wanted to get better for you. I wanted your surgery to work on me."

Gaviria has spent the past 30 years dealing with damage that the cancer did to the bones in her leg and hip, and in all that time she's stuck with Springfield. Even when he has moved, she's traveled so he could keep treating her.

"I just don't trust other doctors as much," she tells him.

Neither Gaviria nor Springfield can remember how many surgeries they've been through together, but it's a lot. Gaviria says she has "shark-attack body" from all the scarring.

When she was a child, Gaviria complained to Springfield that she would never get married.

"I always wondered how difficult it would be for someone to sign up to my life," Gaviria says.

But this year, she did get married. At her wedding, her first dance was with Springfield.

"I wanted you to have the first dance," she told him. "That was just a way of celebrating the fact that a lot of what I'm able to do nowadays is because of your care."

"Your wedding is the first wedding of a patient that I have ever gone to," Springfield said. "It's so rewarding to see that all of that, you know, getting up before the sun comes up to get to the hospital pays off. It wasn't squandered."

"Well, I have a great surgeon that really cared to get it right," Gaviria says. "It's a beautiful thing."

Today, Gaviria walks with a cane. Despite all of the surgeries, there is still a very real possibility that Gaviria will lose her leg, so there are more surgeries in her future. But at least she knows a good surgeon.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo with Eve Claxton.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It is Friday morning, which is when we hear from StoryCorps. People across this country are sitting down to speak with the most important people in their lives, asking questions, hearing stories, finding out things they always wanted to know. And today, we have a conversation between a woman and her surgeon. Marcela Gaviria survived a childhood cancer that nearly took her leg. She spent the last 30 years dealing with complications from that illness, and in all that time, she stuck with the same doctor, Dempsey Springfield.

MARCELA GAVIRIA: I think he started taking care of me when I was 12.

DEMPSEY SPRINGFIELD: You were in the hospital to have a bone transplant.

GAVIRIA: I was pretty scared, I remember, and I think I survived a very sort of traumatic moment because you were so kind. What I remember about you were your bow ties. You just looked like such a Southern gentleman, and you'd show up every morning with such a big smile. And you were so warm and gentle, and I wanted to get better for you. I wanted your surgery to work on me.

SPRINGFIELD: I really enjoy taking care of patients. That's probably what came across.

GAVIRIA: Well, I'd hate to count the amount of times you've operated on me, but every scar on my leg, I think, has something to do with you.

SPRINGFIELD: Well, I keep moving, and you keep following.

GAVIRIA: Because I don't trust others doctors as much. And it's funny, because when I was a kid, I would complain all the time about how I'd never get married.

SPRINGFIELD: I remember very distinctly, we would have conversations about this.

GAVIRIA: Yeah, because, you know, I always wondered how difficult it would be for someone to sign up to my life. Well, I got married this year, and I wanted you to have the first dance. And that was just a way of celebrating the fact that a lot of what I'm able to do nowadays is because of your care.

SPRINGFIELD: Your wedding's the first wedding of a patient that I have ever gone to. So it's so rewarding to see that all of that, you know, getting up before the sun comes up to get to the hospital pays off. It wasn't squandered.

GAVIRIA: Well, I have a great surgeon that really cared to get it right. It's a beautiful thing. Thank you for doing all you did.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Marcela Gaviria with her longtime surgeon, Dr. Dempsey Springfield, in Boston, Massachusetts. Their conversation will be archived along with all StoryCorps interviews at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress. And the StoryCorps podcast is at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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