Tucson mom pens letter to her son's surgeon

Posted at 11:10 PM, Sep 14, 2015

One mom has penned a heart-wrenching letter to the doctor who performed open-heart surgery on her infant son, thanking him for his kindness, devotion and ability to "perform near miracles."

"I just felt unbelievably grateful for how smooth this process went," Jillian Benfield of Tucson, Arizona, told ABC News today. "I know I mentioned this in the letter, but they just dedicate so much of their lives."

"I really wanted to thank him for dedicating more than a decade of his life to helping children," she said.

Benfield, a mom of two, said she was shocked to learn three months before giving birth that her now 8-month-old son Anderson would be born with Down syndrome.

"Our doctor told us basically that the range of possibilities to our son was that he would never be able to feed himself or at best, flip burgers for a living," Benfield said. "We were definitely devastated at first and grieved for a long time. It wasn't until we gathered our strength, when we researched Down syndrome more and realized that what that doctor said was outdated."

"He was not up to date with all the advancements that have been made in the Down syndrome world," Benfield said.

Four months after he was born, Benfield said, doctors then informed her that Anderson would require surgery to repair two holes in his heart.

"It was just another devastation at first," Benfield said. "We felt like we had been through enough with the Down syndrome diagnosis, but unfortunately heart defects are really common with people with Down syndrome."

Following Anderson's surgery on June 18, Benfield said she felt she needed to express her fears prior to the procedure, as well as her gratitude after its successful outcome.

The letter, written to Dr. John Nigro of Phoenix Children's Hospital, read, in part:

I asked you, 'Have you ever lost a baby from this heart surgery?; You looked down and said, “'Yes.' There was one little girl, one among thousands, who also had Down syndrome, who went home and died in her sleep. Even though the loss was more than a decade ago, I could tell it still pained your heart. That’s when I knew you were the one.

On the day of surgery, you saw I was emotional and gave me a tissue and assured me it would be OK. You were more than confident. This is what you do. Day in and day out, you save our children’s lives.

If my son were born in the ’80s, his life expectancy would have been around 25 years old. Now, his life expectancy is 60. This is in large part because of people like you.

Benfield posted the full letter on themighty.comon Aug. 26 and then later mailed it to the hospital.

From there, she received word that Nigro had read her touching thank you.

"His family contacted me and thanked me," Benfield said. "I was so sad that he’d have to have this surgery and go through this. I was really upset that we had to meet the surgeon, but when we did, I had a really good feeling about him."

"I feel like we hear the negative stories about our health care system and I just wanted to shine a light on the fact that medial professionals are still good," she added. "I really feel like they're [surgeons] miracle workers here on Earth."

Benfield said Anderson is doing extremely well since the open-heart surgery, is constantly smiling and is motivated to reach physical milestones.

"I think he's a little fighter," she said. "He's a lover and a fighter."