A patient scheduled for surgery must do more than just check into the hospital on the day of the procedure. A week or two before, the patient has completed several pre-operation assessments, so he or she is physically ready. However, mentally the patient feels a growing emotional stress as the day nears.
Diane A. Fitzhugh, 68, understands this. She was getting ready to leave for UM Shore Medical Center at Easton when Dr. Khalid Kurtom’s office called to ask her to reschedule the back fusion operation that was scheduled for that afternoon. Earlier that day Khalid H. Kurtom, MD, FAANS, FACS, neurosurgeon with University of Maryland Community Medical Group – Neurosurgery and Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Neurosurgery, University of Maryland School of Medicine, had been called to the UM Shore Medical Center at Easton to examine Lillian C. Walters, 64, who had a brain tumor and would not survive without an operation.
“On rare occasions we reschedule patients the week prior to surgery but never the day prior to surgery or the day of surgery,” said Dr. Kurtom. “Patients are already under severe stress and anxiety, and we try to minimize any additional stress on the patients. This was a special circumstance because there were no other options.”
This was the second time Fitzhugh’s elective back surgery had been rescheduled. She recounts, “I said, ‘Oh no, not again,’ and I started to cry. I was ready for surgery. About five minutes later Dr. Kurtom personally called me to see if I was okay. He told me, ‘You know that I’m going to take care of you.’ I wasn’t crying because we were moving my surgery. I cried because I was so emotionally upset.”
“She was emotional; this was the day of her operation and she was anxious and ready to have surgery, but she was willing to move after she understood the situation,” said Dr. Kurtom. “I thanked her and told her that she was helping save another person’s life.”
“Dr. Kurtom calling me personally to make sure that I was okay meant so much to me,” said Fitzhugh.
Many of Dr. Kurtom’s patients often describe him as a genuinely caring doctor. “Caring for someone is not just ordering the right medications or performing a good operation,” said Dr. Kurtom. “I treat patients the way I want my family to be treated and care for them beyond their medical needs. This involves a holistic approach, communicating clearly and defining expectations.”
Lillian Walters was not one of Dr. Kurtom’s patients until October 5, 2015, when that life-threatening brain tumor brought him into her life. In 2007 she’d had a mild stroke and sometimes she still had headaches. After her stroke, her doctor had warned her that if she ever again got an intense headache like the one that had signaled the stroke, Walters was to go immediately to the emergency room. On Sunday, October 4, 2015, Walters realized that the headache she’d endured since the night before was getting worse. Her husband took her to UM Shore Emergency Center at Queenstown. A CT scan there showed a large mass pressing on her brain. She wanted her husband to drive her to UM Shore Medical Center at Easton, but the Emergency Center nurse insisted that an ambulance take her immediately to the hospital: her condition was that critical.
At the hospital they scheduled Walters for an MRI the next morning. “I didn’t comprehend how life-threatening my situation was,” she said. “I’d never met Dr. Kurtom until he came in to examine me that morning in the hospital. I gave him a hard time; I wanted to see his credentials. Dr. Kurtom didn’t take offense and had his office fax them to the hospital. After my husband and I read them, we knew I was in good hands.”
“I want all my patients to be completely confident and trusting of me as their surgeon and physician,” Dr. Kurtom explained. “I want the same for my family. In my practice, I do everything that I can to ensure that my patients are comfortable and confident with the care they are receiving. If that means obtaining second or third opinions, providing them with references, or bringing them back for another appointment to answer their questions, I will do whatever is asked of me without any hesitation.”
Diane Fitzhugh describes Dr. Kurtom as “the most amazing doctor.” This was the second operation Dr. Kurtom had performed on her back, but this one was for a new problem. “He is not a doctor who operates on a whim,” she said. “He explores every option before surgery, and surgery is his last option.” Fitzhugh’s rescheduled operation occurred two days later than the original date, and it was a success. In fact, according to Dr. Kurtom, both ladies did well.
Around Thanksgiving Diane Fitzhugh received a letter from Lillian Walters that Dr. Kurtom’s office forwarded to her. Because of patient privacy regulations, Walters did not know the name of the person who gave up her surgery date. The letter was titled “Act of Kindness,” and was addressed “Dear Anonymous Patient of Dr. Kurtom October 6th who gave me their spot for the operating room October 6th and saved my life.” In her letter Walters said that she felt both of them had been “touched by angels that day.” She said that day she felt a warm and beautiful feeling that made her feel that “everything was going to be okay. Because of your help I made it this far,” she wrote. “I’m so very thankful for your act of kindness.”
“I knew from the time I left the hospital I was going to write the letter,” Walters said. “I knew how important it was for her to give up her spot. It was a very brave act of kindness, and I wanted her to know how much I appreciated it. As we get older we don’t expect many thank you’s, but when we do get them, it’s such a warmhearted act.”
“I cried after reading the first sentence,” said Fitzhugh. “I feel so connected to her. She wrote from the heart. I felt that my prayers and all the prayers for me went to her that day.”
“I have been in UM Shore Medical Center at Easton three times in the last two years,” Fitzhugh continued. “From the time you walk in the door, you receive excellent care every step of the way. This time I felt bad about all these people complimenting me for saving that patient’s life. Dr. Kurtom told me that she went home the next day, but she wouldn’t have made it through the night without the surgery.”
Mrs. Walters, now undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments, has kept a positive attitude. “I have a beautiful daughter and a wonderful husband of 36 years and two beautiful grandchildren who make me smile. Now I want to be here to see them grow up. After surgery, everything has fallen into place, and my husband agrees.”
“I fight for all my patients if they are willing to fight for themselves,” Dr. Kurtom said. “I genuinely want to see them do well and assure them that I will do all I can to provide the best quality care.” After Mrs. Walters dropped off her letter, Dr. Kurtom called her and expressed his gratitude for entrusting his team with her life and allowing him to be her doctor. He said, “This is a remarkable human being; I am truly in awe. Having a caring, compassionate patient who put her own stressful situation aside to help provide care for another patient is remarkable.”
Khalid H. Kurtom, MD, FAANS, FACS, sees patients at the Easton location of University of Maryland Community Medical Group – Neurosurgery, located at University of Maryland Shore Medical Pavilion at Easton, 490 Cadmus Lane. UM Community Medical Group is a multi-hospital, multi-specialty network of University of Maryland Medical System providers all serving the people of Maryland. A member of the Medical Staff at UM Shore Regional Health, Dr. Kurtom performs surgical procedures at UM Shore Medical Center at Easton. For additional information about the services provided by Dr. Kurtom, call 410-820-9117 or visit his website at www.umcmg.org/neuronews.
Photo: Khalid Kurtom, MD, FAANS, FACS, with patients Diane Fitzhugh and Lillian Walters.