One afternoon in the mid-1990s, Hisashi Nikaidoh, MD saw a familiar face outside the cafeteria of The Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, where he worked as a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon.
He recognized Linda Ojeda, a woman who had lost her son at the hospital years before from a heartbreaking accident. Although Dr. Nikaidoh had not been involved in the case professionally, he had seen Linda at her son’s bedside every day as he checked on his own patients in the ICU. He was surprised to see her at the hospital again after so many years. They smiled and went their separate ways.
A few weeks later, Dr. Nikaidoh saw her in the hallway again. And then again. And again. One day, Linda stopped for a moment to talk. With her genuine smile and her open manner, she simply said, “Dr. Nikaidoh, I work here now.”
“Oh, wow,” he responded. “That’s very nice.”
He couldn’t focus his thoughts to say more right then, but his mind was filled with dozens of questions. Why would a mother come to work at the institution that had not been able to save her son’s life? Why would she choose to come to work every single day in the place where her baby died? Why would she put herself through that? Dr. Nikaidoh did know one thing: If he had lost a child, he would want to go far, far away from the location of such a tragic loss.
And then, one day in 2003, the unthinkable happened. Dr. Nikaidoh’s son Dr. Hitoshi Nikaidoh was killed in a tragic accident. As he labored through the pain of his grief in the months that followed, his encounters with Linda were constantly on his mind. What did she know about this terrible grief that he was suffering?
Finally, one day he called and asked to meet with her.
“Why do you do this?” he asked. “Why do you work here in this building where your son died?”
With her peaceful smile, Linda answered very simply, “Because it helps me, Dr. Nikaidoh. It helps me to be here.”
What Dr. Nikaidoh eventually learned from Linda and the seven other women who so generously share their stories in Healing Hearts is that it is possible to move beyond the excruciating pain of losing a child. Although there is no end to the period of grieving, it is possible to share the joy and light of being alive again.
These eight parents infused their own lives with a deeper meaning by giving back to the very community that tried valiantly, though unsuccessfully, to save the lives of their precious children. Their stories are an inspiration to us all.