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Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit Hardcover – April 14, 2003

4.6 out of 5 stars 65 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What kind of person operates on babies' hearts for a living? This is the question Ruhlman set out to answer when he entered the pediatric heart center at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, to observe Dr. Roger Mee, one of the best pediatric heart surgeons in the world, and his team at work. Ruhlman, who has written two other books about people striving for excellence (The Soul of a Chef and Wooden Boats), describes with awe the precision, speed and ingenuity required to repair or transplant an infant's tiny heart. His gripping OR scenes capture the life-and-death nature of each surgery and illustrate why only perfection is good enough in this new and rapidly developing specialty. As the clinic's physician's assistant tells Ruhlman with a bluntness characteristic of the people he depicts, This is a kid, not a Yugo here. The anguish the families endure only adds to the pressure on the surgeons. And while congenital heart defects are the most common kind of birth defect, the book reveals that most parents are unaware of the vast difference between having surgery performed by a virtuoso like Dr. Mee and an average surgeon whom a local cardiologist might feel compelled to refer patients to because of HMO protocols. Ruhlman also provides some historical context, weaving in the stories of the maverick surgeons who pioneered the specialty. Although the medical terminology can slow the reader down at times, most will tear through this engaging and often wrenching account.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Michael Ruhlman, author of The Soul of a Chef and Wooden Boats, has written extensively for The New York Times and numerous magazines. He is also the winner of the 1999 James Beard Award for Magazine Writing.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition, First Printing edition (April 14, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670032018
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670032013
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,199,767 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Dr. Mee has operated on our daughter two times now and a third operation (and possible transplant) is in her future. I will tell you that the Cleveland Clinic was not our first choice, however, I am greatful that Dr. Mee ended up being our daughter's surgeon in the end. I was not shocked by what I read because I have been in the care of everyone mentioned in the book. What I would have liked to read were more personal stories and less technical stuff. Although, personal stories was not what the book was intended for so I don't fault the author at all. As it turns out, our second opinion at the Clinic included a "sit in" by this author... who knows, maybe our story would have been told. At the time, however, we decided to stay with University Hospitals. Little did we know that their then surgeon would quit right before our little Sophia was to be operated on (she was the next case!)
Read the book, if you are not a parent of a CHD child, you won't appreciate it as much. If you are expecting a CHD child in your life, the book will scare the hell out of you until your first trip down that long hallway to the O.R. Once you have walked your child to surgery... you no longer have a sense of fear for anything as their is no greater fear.
Laura in Cleveland
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A real fan of Ruhlman's previous books, I knew that this would make for good reading. Squeemish at times for those of us not use to inside O.R. environments with all the procedures and organs being talked about, this rivets one to pediatric heart surgery.
Fashioned around a premier surgeon at a leading hospital, the reader is taken on a whirlwind of living on the edge of technology and skill and emotions as heart defects are diagnosed during pregnancy while others found at birth and thereafter are the daily routine of this top notch surgical team which Ruhlman lived with and writes about.
One is touched by the intensity of the whole enterprise, the stark reality of it all, day after day, year after year. The enormity of it all. Patching this, switching that, shunting here, stiching this together---all to keep young precious life.
The history of the discipline and current happenings are reviewed, with its emphasis on comparative mortality stats for various surgical procedures. Scary to think one's future might well be determined by where one lives and where taken when heart defects occur.
The precision and dedication of those who live in this arena is beyond most of our scopes to even begin to fathom, but this book seems to take one there in spirit and interest. The compassionate care looms ever large.
Thoughtful, provocative and reflective view of speciality surgery at the leading edge and all the while on edge.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book by Michael Ruhlman detailing the day to day work at Cleveland Children's Hospital is one of the best medical narritives that I've read. On par with "The Healing Blade" or "When the Air Hits Your Brain".
Michael does a masterful job of telling both the technical/medical side of the story as well as the deeply human side of the patients and families throughout the book.
Given my background (EMT) and my wife's (CardioVascular ICU RN in Milwaukee) we both agree that the facts are correct and showed a balanced view of the topic. Many times books of this type show only "glowing successes" rather here reality is shown in that not everyone gets better like on TV and lives happily ever after.
Lastly, I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Mee's Coordinator Deb Gilchrist at Ceveland Cinic shortly after finishing the book and she did bring up one point, the language was commented on by one reader and former patient as being too "rough". While I agree that the language is at times quite frank, the reality of the world is that these are real people and real life somtimes isn't neat and clean as we would like it to be. I don't see this as a reason to NOT read the book, however parents might want to be aware of this if children might be reading it.
ALl in all and excellent work and definately 5 stars.
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Format: Hardcover
Imagine opening a newborn baby's chest and holding his plum-sized heart in your hands, confident that you can repair it and give the child a healthy life.

Meet Dr. Roger Mee, one of the world's top pediatric heart surgeons. Dr. Mee and his team at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio do just that, two or three times a day, five or six days a week. Author Michael Ruhlman spent a year as an embedded observer in this center of excellence, exploring an elite surgical specialty and the professionals who devote themselves to perfecting it.

"Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit" is the wonderful product of that year, and you won't find a more fascinating or inspiring story. Ruhlman gives us a satisfying mix of history, anatomy, biography, and personal interest.

The unit specializes in the repair of congenital heart defects. Each chapter starts with a case or an individual, suffering from or exemplifying some condition. Then the author catalogues the development of treatment options for that condition. Finally, he returns to the clinical setting to finish the story.

Ruhlman discusses medical politics and the story behind outcome statistics. What is the impact on a unit's statistics when that unit is a referral center for the sickest babies? How can a patient -- or a parent -- know the importance of the BEST care versus GOOD care? Thorny questions are raised.

But this is first and foremost the story of New Zealand-born Dr. Mee and his team, and the huge demands they make on themselves every day for the sake of these babies who got an unlucky draw -- at least, unlucky until they come under Dr. Mee's care.

"Walk on Water" is action-packed and sensitively written. If you are interested in medical non-fiction, you WILL be stunned by this book. It's a completely absorbing read and I highly recommend it.

Linda Bulger, 2008
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