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To Operate or Not?

Reuven Spindler, Montreal, Canda A year ago, our daughter, Talia Rochel, was born. During those first days, my wife and I waited in the hospital as would any other happy set of parents with their newborn child, praying that we should merit to raise her to Torah, marriage and good deeds. 

After we brought her home from the hospital, we realized that our daughter’s digestive system was not functioning properly. A little more than a week after her birth, the baby’s abdomen had hardened and become swollen, and we quickly rushed with her back to the hospital.

The doctors immediately did a biopsy, and after a lengthy series of tests, the results came in. We were informed that our daughter had been born with Hirschsprung’s disease, a rare ailment that afflicts one out of every five thousand people. Part of the large intestine had formed without nerve cells. It was unable to relax properly to allow waste to pass through. There was no alternative – the child needed immediate surgery.

The doctor explained to us that this would be a most complicated procedure. They would have to create a temporary opening in her abdominal wall (colostomy) for waste to pass, which would last for at least one year.

 “We’re talking about a one-week old baby,” I told the doctor. “I don’t want her operated on now!”

However, the doctor was adamant. “This is a matter of life and death,” he said. “The operation must be done. There’s no alternative…”

We responded that we needed time to consider the matter. In the meantime, they referred us to a couple who had gone through a similar situation to help us deal with the new reality and teach us how to clean out the baby artificially three times a day. We returned home, anxious and extremely concerned.

I wrote to the Rebbe, asking for a blessing and advice on what we should do. I opened a volume of Igros Kodesh, the Rebbe’s published letters, but I saw no advice in connection to our situation. I asked my mashpia (spiritual mentor), and he said that in medical matters, the Rebbe always instructed people to get a second opinion from another doctor.

We went to see Dr. Laberge, a renowned pediatric surgeon in Montreal. He looked at all the previous test results and told us, “They did a biopsy on her, and in 99% of the cases, the results produced by the biopsy are proven accurate. In other words, there’s no room for mistakes. You have to do the operation.”

We sought the advice of Refua V’Chesed, an organization in Montreal that provides medical referrals and support. They told us that Dr. Laberge is an expert specialist in such cases, and they recommended that he perform the surgery.

We spoke with Dr. Laberge, and asked him to run another series of tests, just to reassure ourselves that the results were accurate.

He told us that there was no point in doing further tests and the surgery should be scheduled as soon as possible. “However,” the doctor said, “although I think that it’s totally unnecessary, I’ll arrange for another series of tests so you’ll be calm about it…” We set a date for the operation and went home. 

The night before the operation, we sat with tears in our eyes as we wrote to the Rebbe that we didn’t want our daughter to have this surgery. We asked for a blessing that everything should work out and this nightmare should come to an end. 

I took Volume 28 of Igros Kodesh and opened to Letter #10,630. This was a correspondence written entirely in Russian, except for just a few words in Hebrew. It was addressed to someone named Rochel. We were immediately overcome, as our daughter’s name is Talia Rochel.

The only Hebrew words in the letter flashed in front of us: “In an auspicious hour. On the Tziyon of my holy and revered father-in-law, the Rebbe. Miracles.With a blessing for a recovery and for good news.”

We had received the answer we were looking for and our hearts felt more at ease.

The following morning, we arrived at the hospital with our suitcases packed with clothes for a week. They took the baby and began the routine process of preparing her for the operation. They proceeded to clear out the digestive tract, while the anesthetist started connecting our daughter to the oxygen in the final pre-op stage. Suddenly, Dr. Laberge ran into the operating room and cried, “Stop! Stop!” 

The surgical team was stunned. “What do you mean, ‘Stop’? There’s no need to operate?”

“I promised the parents that we would repeat the tests, and I’m waiting for the lab report,” he declared. “Wait ten minutes.” 

We sat for ten minutes, which seemed to us like an eternity. We felt as if we were sitting on pins and needles… Finally, the results arrived.

The repeat tests showed that our daughter did not have the disease at all. There really was no need to operate…

According to the medical staff, the first doctor had made a colossal error, and they had no idea how he had reached his conclusions. “There are two possibilities,” they said. “Either he dozed off during the examination or he had mistakenly switched your daughter’s test results with someone else’s…”

Later, as a result of his desire to subject a one-week old baby to an unnecessary operation, the original doctor had his license revoked in the United States and Canada for a period of six months…

The doctors said that the new test results showed our daughter had merely developed an allergy to the protein found in dairy products, and this is what was causing the blockage in her digestive system.

They cleaned out her intestines, gave my wife a strict diet for our daughter to maintain, and thank G-d, everything has been fine since then.



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