Arizona mom pens poignant letter to doctor who performed heart surgery on infant son

Anderson Benfield, 8 months, had open-heart surgery on June 18, 2015. (Photo: ABC News)

A mom penned a heart-wrenching letter to the doctor who performed her infant son’s open-heart surgery. In it, she thanked 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. “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.

Baby Anderson (Photo: ABC News)
Baby Anderson (Photo: ABC News)

“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until we gathered our strength, when we researched Down syndrome more and realized that what that doctor said was outdated.”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 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.”

Jillian sent the letter to Dr. John Nigro at Phoenix Children's Hospital. (Photo: ABC News)
Jillian sent the letter to Dr. John Nigro at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. (Photo: ABC News)

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

The letter, written to Dr. John Nigro of Phenoix 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.com on Aug. 26 and then later mailed it to the hospital.

She later 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.”

Jillian said Anderson is doing very well since the surgery. (Photo: ABC News)
Jillian said Anderson is doing very well since the surgery. (Photo: ABC News)

“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, constantly smiling and motivated to reach physical milestones.

“I think he’s a little fighter,” she said. “He’s a lover and a fighter.”

Information from this report came from ABC News.

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