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Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children's Lives

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Described by one surgeon as “soul-crushing, diamond-making stress,” surgery on congenital heart defects is arguably the most difficult of all surgical specialties. Drawing back the hospital curtain for a unique and captivating look at the extraordinary skill and dangerous politics of critical surgery in a pediatric heart center, Michael Ruhlman focuses on the world-renowne Described by one surgeon as “soul-crushing, diamond-making stress,” surgery on congenital heart defects is arguably the most difficult of all surgical specialties. Drawing back the hospital curtain for a unique and captivating look at the extraordinary skill and dangerous politics of critical surgery in a pediatric heart center, Michael Ruhlman focuses on the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, where a team of medical specialists led by idiosyncratic virtuoso Dr. Roger Mee work on the edge of disaster on a daily basis. Walk on Water offers a rare and dramatic glimpse into a world where the health of innocent children and the hopes of white-knuckled families rest in the hands of all-too-human doctors.


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Described by one surgeon as “soul-crushing, diamond-making stress,” surgery on congenital heart defects is arguably the most difficult of all surgical specialties. Drawing back the hospital curtain for a unique and captivating look at the extraordinary skill and dangerous politics of critical surgery in a pediatric heart center, Michael Ruhlman focuses on the world-renowne Described by one surgeon as “soul-crushing, diamond-making stress,” surgery on congenital heart defects is arguably the most difficult of all surgical specialties. Drawing back the hospital curtain for a unique and captivating look at the extraordinary skill and dangerous politics of critical surgery in a pediatric heart center, Michael Ruhlman focuses on the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, where a team of medical specialists led by idiosyncratic virtuoso Dr. Roger Mee work on the edge of disaster on a daily basis. Walk on Water offers a rare and dramatic glimpse into a world where the health of innocent children and the hopes of white-knuckled families rest in the hands of all-too-human doctors.

30 review for Walk on Water: The Miracle of Saving Children's Lives

  1. 5 out of 5

    Missy

    As an adult with congenital heart disease and two children with heart defects, I am pretty much an 'expert' at having heart problems. This book is spot on about how it feels to be a parent of heart babies and patient with heart defects. I like to see both sides of the fence (the medical professional side and the patient side). Ruhlman delivers both. It provides insight to those who have never had to deal with any health issues with their children (thankfully...i wouldn't wish it on anybody). It As an adult with congenital heart disease and two children with heart defects, I am pretty much an 'expert' at having heart problems. This book is spot on about how it feels to be a parent of heart babies and patient with heart defects. I like to see both sides of the fence (the medical professional side and the patient side). Ruhlman delivers both. It provides insight to those who have never had to deal with any health issues with their children (thankfully...i wouldn't wish it on anybody). It also shows some of the success stories. My only wish is that it showed a few more successes in detail (not just numbers and stats) but interviews with the families who have witnessed miracles, as well. There is nothing - nothing - like seeing your child be brought back from death at the hands of skilled doctors and nurses (and in the hands of God). I loved the book, none-the-less, because it was the story of my life and the history of how our surgeons and doctors became who they are and how they now do what they do.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    After our experience with Cam I didn't think I'd be able to read this, and it definitely was tough at times. But mostly this book, which follows the intense lives of pediatriac cardiac surgeons and their teams, left me feeling astounded at the amazing advancements in the field over just the last decades. And grateful. So very grateful.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Michael Ruhlman is a local celebrity and a fairly nice guy. I see him at our community pool all summer and his kid is in my daughter's Montessori classroom. In addition to all that ephemera, I appreciate the premise of his work. My partner first started reading his books about world class chefs and what it takes to work in a top kitchen, an area of interest to her. I was not so interested in reading about cooking but this book, about pediatric cardiac surgery, grabbed my attention since I used to Michael Ruhlman is a local celebrity and a fairly nice guy. I see him at our community pool all summer and his kid is in my daughter's Montessori classroom. In addition to all that ephemera, I appreciate the premise of his work. My partner first started reading his books about world class chefs and what it takes to work in a top kitchen, an area of interest to her. I was not so interested in reading about cooking but this book, about pediatric cardiac surgery, grabbed my attention since I used to do pediatric anesthesia and knew some of the players in the book. He illustrates a world completely alien to most of us, and blessedly so. It's not an easy or fun read, but it is fascinating.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jayme

    I decided to read this book because next year my husband will be starting his pediatric congenital surgery fellowship. This book gave me a well rounded idea of what his life, our family's life and those lives affected with these conditions are/will be like. The world of congenital heart defects is a very encompassing/consuming place. It is filled with joy and heartache not only for the families that are dealing with a loved one with these issues but also for those that spend their lives fixing a I decided to read this book because next year my husband will be starting his pediatric congenital surgery fellowship. This book gave me a well rounded idea of what his life, our family's life and those lives affected with these conditions are/will be like. The world of congenital heart defects is a very encompassing/consuming place. It is filled with joy and heartache not only for the families that are dealing with a loved one with these issues but also for those that spend their lives fixing and finding new and better ways to care for them.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rob Loflin

    excellent book about a great surgeon and how he came to be. the author specializes in writing books about people who do things well. he's written one about boat builders that i liked and another one about chefs.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    This amazing doctor was our Granadson's first open-heart surgeon.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Mccann

    A friend recommended this book to me when we were discussing our children's common pediatric cardiologist. She mentioned that our doctor was mentioned in this book. So it is always interesting to read a book in which a person you know is mentioned. It is the story of Roger Mee (mostly) and his team at the Cleveland Clinic, and how they are the FOREMOST congenital pediatric heart surgery team in the world. It is at times mired in technical detail and at times heart breaking. It is the technical de A friend recommended this book to me when we were discussing our children's common pediatric cardiologist. She mentioned that our doctor was mentioned in this book. So it is always interesting to read a book in which a person you know is mentioned. It is the story of Roger Mee (mostly) and his team at the Cleveland Clinic, and how they are the FOREMOST congenital pediatric heart surgery team in the world. It is at times mired in technical detail and at times heart breaking. It is the technical detail that brings this book down. Seriously, if you want to discuss the anatomy of the heart in detail and all the particular defects, a few drawings might have been really helpful. It is also angering how easily a child with a heart condition can be treated by inadequate surgeons, and the parents will never know. Many pediatric cardiologists deliberately do not inform the parents of their choices in treatments and doctors. It is a matter of ego, or reimbursement, or insurance, or geography that influences their recommendations. More terrifying are the young guns who are operating on children, and just learning how to operate on perhaps the most delicate of all neonate organs in the body. After reading this book, should my daughter ever progress to the point of surgery, at least I know whom to go to.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    An excellent book, though I found it to be sad at most points. Rather, I mean that to say that I am glad both of my children were born without heart defects. Ruhlman presents a brief history of heart surgery, and a good picture of those that make congenital heart surgery their work. He does an excellent job of showing those members both as human, as the miracle-workers that they are seen to be by outsiders. I liked his voice within the book, like that of a friend, who got to tag along and was sho An excellent book, though I found it to be sad at most points. Rather, I mean that to say that I am glad both of my children were born without heart defects. Ruhlman presents a brief history of heart surgery, and a good picture of those that make congenital heart surgery their work. He does an excellent job of showing those members both as human, as the miracle-workers that they are seen to be by outsiders. I liked his voice within the book, like that of a friend, who got to tag along and was shown a great deal of what goes on behind the scenes. The parents of all of these children were painted very well, also, I thought, shown stark within the reality of their situation. Mostly, I liked that everyone in the book, even the patients, had a face.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Winder

    Being a Pediatric Cardiac ICU nurse practitioner, I was curious but hesitant to read this book. Then I started it and couldn't put it down. I think this is the most accurate accounting of life is like working in the world of congenital heart disease - the ups and downs, the personalities, the harshness and humor, even the vocabulary is spot-on. Although it's written by an author who was completely unfamiliar with the field, he really did his research. There were only minor inaccuracies, and the Being a Pediatric Cardiac ICU nurse practitioner, I was curious but hesitant to read this book. Then I started it and couldn't put it down. I think this is the most accurate accounting of life is like working in the world of congenital heart disease - the ups and downs, the personalities, the harshness and humor, even the vocabulary is spot-on. Although it's written by an author who was completely unfamiliar with the field, he really did his research. There were only minor inaccuracies, and the stories were very compelling. It again reminded me why I love my job so very much. I was a little put off with the chapter on referrals to heart surgeons. I can see why this may be viewed as a concern, but I thought it went a little far to make an issue more dramatic than it is.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Having a child with a serious heart defect (hlhs--mentioned in the book) and 3 open heart surgeries ( I read this between #2 & #3), it gave me more understanding and appreciation for the surgeons and hospital staff. True to life from a parent of a child who has spent weeks in the hospital on a roller coaster. A bit intense--not a book to read soon before a scheduled surgery. Having a child with a serious heart defect (hlhs--mentioned in the book) and 3 open heart surgeries ( I read this between #2 & #3), it gave me more understanding and appreciation for the surgeons and hospital staff. True to life from a parent of a child who has spent weeks in the hospital on a roller coaster. A bit intense--not a book to read soon before a scheduled surgery.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    MY DREAM JOB!!! Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon - awesome!! Great book for anyone who wants motivation to be great at whatever they do!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    The author, a journalist, spends a year with pediatric cardio surgeons. I've given this book to every young person I know who wants to be a doctor.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Fascinating look into the world of pediatric cardiac surgery. Some parts were way too technical for me (over my head), but I loved learning about these remarkable physicians, nurses, and other members of the healthcare team who have this vocation. The glimpse into the pain and worry of the families was at turns heartbreaking and joyous. Worth reading.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    This book was incredible to me not only because I lived near the Cleveland Clinic and remember many of the events and people presented in these stories, but also because Michael Ruhlman has a wonderful way of approaching and describing the most delicate and the most disturbing scenes that can, and frequently do, occur in hospitals. This is a year in the life of celebrated pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Roger Mee. Ruhlman shadowed Mee in 2000, following him from home to office to OR and on roun This book was incredible to me not only because I lived near the Cleveland Clinic and remember many of the events and people presented in these stories, but also because Michael Ruhlman has a wonderful way of approaching and describing the most delicate and the most disturbing scenes that can, and frequently do, occur in hospitals. This is a year in the life of celebrated pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Roger Mee. Ruhlman shadowed Mee in 2000, following him from home to office to OR and on rounds. As a result of his adventures, Ruhlman is able to describe in accurate and sensitive detail the stories surrounding a handful of the baby hearts Roger Mee repaired(with the help of his remarkable team), and the lives that were changed during his career. It is an amazing inside look. Jonathan Drummond-Webb, another cardiothoracic surgeon, also appears in the pages of this book shortly before he moved to Arkansas Children's hospital in 2001. Drummond-Webb had a story of his own that ended tragically when his extraordinary talent was snuffed out too soon by suicide in December of 2004. If you can - read this book.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    This was a fantastic book about the lives of pediatric heart surgeons and how this surgery has changed/improved in the last 40 years. The focus was on one surgeon, Dr. Mee, who ended his career at Cleveland Clinic. The author had a lot of questions/soul-searching concerning why the referrals for children's heart surgery aren't to those surgeons who have the best success rates. Are some cardiologists, surgeons, and hospitals looking out only for themselves (big egos) and not really caring about t This was a fantastic book about the lives of pediatric heart surgeons and how this surgery has changed/improved in the last 40 years. The focus was on one surgeon, Dr. Mee, who ended his career at Cleveland Clinic. The author had a lot of questions/soul-searching concerning why the referrals for children's heart surgery aren't to those surgeons who have the best success rates. Are some cardiologists, surgeons, and hospitals looking out only for themselves (big egos) and not really caring about the children? Parents in crisis, as these parents are, are not given adequate information to make truly informed decisions. A great read.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Amy Johns

    I loved parts of this book, and I didn’t love others. The stories of the people, the procedures— those were fascinating. However, I felt there was a lot of technical discussion that could have used diagrams or more effective explanations for those of us that are not in the know. And I felt there was a great deal of repetitiveness, which was perhaps an effect to the non-linear organization. Stories were interrupted for a cliff-hanger effect, and sometimes that backfired or led to confusion on my I loved parts of this book, and I didn’t love others. The stories of the people, the procedures— those were fascinating. However, I felt there was a lot of technical discussion that could have used diagrams or more effective explanations for those of us that are not in the know. And I felt there was a great deal of repetitiveness, which was perhaps an effect to the non-linear organization. Stories were interrupted for a cliff-hanger effect, and sometimes that backfired or led to confusion on my part. Nevertheless— excellent discussion of subject matter that I thought I would never find interesting.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ashley Ratliff

    Truly fascinating!!!! Amazing book! I have a child with CHD and this is the only hook I have found that fully captures the world you are thrown into when you have a heart baby. I've ready this book so many times and still learn something new with each read. This is a MUST READ for parents who have a child with any heart defect. I would also recommend it to anyone who enjoys the fascinati ng medical world at large. I'm so grateful to all that have devoted their life to caring for these precious ki Truly fascinating!!!! Amazing book! I have a child with CHD and this is the only hook I have found that fully captures the world you are thrown into when you have a heart baby. I've ready this book so many times and still learn something new with each read. This is a MUST READ for parents who have a child with any heart defect. I would also recommend it to anyone who enjoys the fascinati ng medical world at large. I'm so grateful to all that have devoted their life to caring for these precious kids.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Ashcraft

    This book gave a wonderful overview of the origination of pediatric and adult cardiac surgery programs. I had no idea most of the huge strides had occurred during my lifetime... I recommend this book to anyone related to a cardiac surgeon (hi, Kara and Abi!), anyone in medical school (hi, Cordel!), and anyone who wants to read the most beautiful description of how a heart forms in utero (hi, everybody in the word!).

  19. 5 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    Even though I didn't understand a lot of what was going on, I loved the first two-thirds of the book. I loved the stories about children who were sick and dying and needed heart surgery. I loved the stories about the doctors who worked on the children. Then the story switched to a history of heart surgery in the world and I grew less interested. By the time I got back to the stories of the children, I found myself much less interested in what was going to happen.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Leslie Kay

    A terrific, terrifying and, at times, tragic read. Loved every second of this beautiful book, and I might even know how to speak like a surgeon now. HaHa. I'm grateful for the medical people who dedicate themselves to excellence, and I'm grateful for Michael Ruhlman who gave us such a detailed glimpse into the world of pediatric heart care - both from the doctor's, medical staff, and the family's perspective.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Aberdeen

    The combination of science and ethics/social issues that I LOVE. The details of heart surgery were fascinating (and required me to have a picture of the heart on my phone while reading because wait, which valve is that again? what does it do?) but even more so were the ethical dilemmas and the portraits of the families with children with these terrible congenital heart diseases and the complex surgeons who try to save them. Very well-written and illuminating. A favorite of the year.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Travis Reilly

    This not a book I would recommend for anyone working in medicine. I worked as a Pediatric Cardiac Surgical PA for nearly 20 years, I found it exaggerated and sometimes inaccurate (he notes that a PA and RNFA are the same profession) I honestly could only make it about 2/3 and had to put it down. It's inspirational for anyone outside this field but I recommend taking the book as entertainment for anyone who does this field.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    As someone who’s working on a pediatric CVICU of a growing program, I thought this was extremely insightful on what separates good programs from first class programs. I think this is a ‘must read’ for anyone working in healthcare with congenital heart patients

  24. 4 out of 5

    Trish

    This is the first congenital pediatric heart book I ever read. I ended up doing my final nursing paper on CHD in children.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    I loved this book- mostly because i knew most of the children;s surgical team when i was working at the Clinic. They really are spectacular people!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Meg

    I should've expected that a book about babies born with heart defects would be like trying to read a buzzfeed WE BET YOU CAN'T MAKE IT THROUGH THIS WITHOUT CRYING list but I am very naive sometimes.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Flicka

    I found this book really fascinating. I enjoyed the detail about the condition, and the anatomical structures involved, and the risks. I enjoyed the tension and drama of the surgeries themselves. And was impressed with the compassionate stories of the supremely stressed parents of the babies born with Congenital Heart Defects. Ruhlman is a skilled writer; he writes clearly, accurately, and compellingly. I have a neighborhood acquaintance whose son was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HL I found this book really fascinating. I enjoyed the detail about the condition, and the anatomical structures involved, and the risks. I enjoyed the tension and drama of the surgeries themselves. And was impressed with the compassionate stories of the supremely stressed parents of the babies born with Congenital Heart Defects. Ruhlman is a skilled writer; he writes clearly, accurately, and compellingly. I have a neighborhood acquaintance whose son was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS) and have watched her and spoken with her as she, her husband, their son, and his older twin brother and sister lived through his journey through the Norwood, Glen, and Fontan surgeries. The ups and downs were many and varied. This book allowed me to see the technical side of this journey.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    This was challenging reading for layered reasons. First, it's quite technical and dense medically; amazing it wasn't written by an MD. More affectingly, after checking it out, I learned that the 3-month-old baby of an acquaintance needs a heart transplant. Technology and human ingenuity are amazing, but life is so far from fair.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    4.5 stars An incredible peek into the high stakes world of pediatric congenital heart surgery, which I knew nothing about, and the intensity of the professionals who choose to form their lives and careers around it. This book reminds me of Intern by Doctor X, which I devoured multiple times as a teenager and young adult and is probably not for the squeamish.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Marie (UK)

    This was essentially a decent book just a bit repetitive. I feel like the author got ogled down in the statistics and the ethical dilemma whether any child should be sent to a doctor whose s were result less than the best.

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