By Jamie Shafer
If people have had a connection to spirituality in their past, then it will likely show up again before open-heart surgery, according to anesthesiologist Dr. Don Stogsdill. As he talks, Don’s calm voice and demeanor seem to make him an ideal person to talk with patients before they undergo this major surgery.
When asked about his favorite part of his role, Don responded quickly: “In my job, I relieve pain. I tell my patients that I’m the guy who makes sure that you are comfortable while you’re being operated on. I get to see patients the day before surgery, the day of, and a couple of days after it’s over. It’s a nice chance to bond with families.”
Don grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ at the age of 12. His grandfather was an elder in the church. “I don’t remember a time when I didn’t attend church. We were always there,” he shared. When he later married his wife, Tricia, and they started a family, he said they knew that they wanted to raise their children with a strong faith foundation. From then until now, a community of faith has remained a central part of their lives.
Don’s life could be a study of steadfast commitments. He and Tricia have been married for 37 years, and he is just two years shy of serving 50 years within the same hospital system. The son of an anesthesiologist, Don started serving as an orderly in the hospital when he was just 16. Within his local church, he has served multiple terms as an elder over the course of 25 years.
As he talks about his work, Don noted, “I feel called to what I’m doing and where I’m doing it.” He is grateful to be a part of a Catholic hospital system because it allows him to talk about matters of spirituality during his everyday work. Over the years, he has had the opportunity to pray with patients before they head into life-changing heart surgery. Some patients share with him that they are believers, which can sometimes lead to meaningful conversations. At the same time, they know it is possible that they could die.
Regarding those patients who share that they are Christians, Don said, “I get to tell them that you’ll either wake up back here with your family, which is what we’re hoping for, or you’ll wake up in the hands of Jesus.”
He gives full credit to God for his years of experience in the medical field. “My knowledge and my skill that allow me to practice medicine are from God. My medical practice is a ministry. This is in God’s hands first and my hands second.”
Don said he has also had the opportunity to witness God working within the operating room. “I know I’ve had some of those God moments. I’ve seen things that I would say are miracles, which doesn’t mean we just stood back and watched things happen, but I’ve seen God working through surgeons.”
Don’s faith is present not only in his relationship with patients but also in his daily camaraderie with coworkers. Over time he has gained a reputation as a man of faith by demonstrating it as a regular part of life. “I’ve been there long enough that people know about my faith by my actions. I talk about my faith and my church. They respect that.”
He smiled and said that sometimes when there is a questionable comment or joke by a coworker, it will be followed with a sheepish, “Sorry, Dr. Don.” He strives to intentionally contribute a positive influence within his daily work environment and in how he conducts himself.
Understandably, at times, the operating room can be filled with tense situations and patients who are in life-threatening circumstances. In those moments, Don said that he strives to stay calm and even. When good things happen, he will add an audible, “Thank you, Lord” afterward to give God the glory. For him, it’s just one part of naturally living his faith in his everyday role.
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.