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A dad thanks the doctor who brought difficult news about his newborn


Time now for My Unsung Hero from the team at Hidden Brain, sharing the stories of people whose kindness left a lasting impression on someone else. Many of the people you've heard featured in this series don't get to thank their heroes face-to-face, but today we bring you one such conversation. In 2015, Jamil Zaki's daughter, Alma, was born. She suffered a stroke during her birth and was sent to a neonatal intensive care unit. Early one morning, at about 1 a.m., a doctor came by to share some difficult news about her treatment plan.

JAMIL ZAKI: And instead of just delivering the news compassionately and leaving, he just pulled up a chair. It was just me and him. And we talked, I'd say, for about 90 minutes or so.

FLORIDO: Sharing his story inspired Zaki to find that doctor, Dr. Mark Petersen. They connected over Zoom, and Zaki shared what was going through his mind that day, years before, in the hospital.

ZAKI: I just felt like I couldn't control anything. I was feeling this loss of autonomy, of agency. And then I just remember you not leaving. And if I remember correctly, you talked about your kids, and you were just sharing that, hey, you know, it's just hard to be a parent. And afterwards, I stopped thinking about the suffering that we were going through and started thinking about, OK, well, what do we do for Alma next? And then what comes after that?

MARK PETERSEN: Yeah. Yeah. And I think, as any new parent, we all have that moment. And I remember our first night with, you know, my own child, you know, crying, wouldn't be able - couldn't eat. It was hot. We didn't know what to do - and looking for help. It's nothing like going through the NICU, but I think when you just have another parent connect in that way and say you're doing everything right, I think we all help each other. And I think, at that moment, obviously, for me to be able to stay and talk with you, I was getting something out of that conversation, too. But it's an amazing feeling to be able to be part of that and help guide families through that.

ZAKI: That's what it is, Mark. It's that - I feel like, in that moment, you stepped out from behind the white coat, so to speak. And I think that that crucial moment - that crossroads for us - you know, you were there for us. You were there for me. And I don't think that I could ever adequately thank you for that.

PETERSEN: Wow. Getting that thanks means a lot to me, and it's definitely nothing that I feel is necessary because we want to be there. And, you know, that magic of being able to be there at the moment when someone's family starts is a very special thing.


FLORIDO: Jamil Zaki and Dr. Mark Petersen. Zaki says that Alma is now 7 and doing great. You can find more stories from My Unsung Hero wherever you get your podcasts. And to share the story of your unsung hero, record a voice memo on your phone and email it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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