Olivia Worlton's teacher at Rochester Arts & Sciences Academy gave her class an assignment: Pick a hero, learn about him or her, and then present what you've learned to the class. While most of Olivia's fellow first-graders picked historical figures or their parents (aww), Olivia had someone else in mind. She chose William Shaughnessy, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus.
That decision didn't surprise her parents. "He changed her life," says Olivia's mom, Heather Worlton. But it did surprise Dr. Shaughnessy. "First graders have lots of heroes to choose from," Dr. Shaughnessy notes, including teachers, police officers, fire fighters and military personnel. "I was honored and humbled that she would think an orthopedic surgeon was in that same mix," he tells us. But to Olivia, the choice was obvious. "He is very smart and helped me so I was not in pain, so he is my hero!" she wrote in her report.
Olivia's hero first came into her life when she was just 3 years old. After her parents noticed a limp in her walk, testing revealed she had hip dysplasia and would need surgery to correct the problem. Enter Dr. Shaughnessy. "He explained to Olivia that he needed to fix something so that she could play and dance," Heather tells us. "He explained things in terms she could understand." His demeanor made a lasting impression on Olivia — and her parents. "My husband and I always thought he was a remarkable person as well as a surgeon," Heather says. "We never felt like Olivia was just another patient to him."
In the years since her surgery, Olivia has seen Dr. Shaughnessy every year or two for follow-up appointments. She enjoys the appointments, says Heather, and always asks permission to do a new activity or two. "She asks him, 'Can I do cartwheels? Can I go horseback riding?'" Heather tells us. The answer is always a resounding yes. "She has no restrictions," Heather says. "She can be a normal kiddo."
Which is Dr. Shaughnessy's goal for all of his patients. "I'd like the children's conditions and my presence to be a small 'speed bump' in the road of life, nothing more," he tells us. Which was why he was so surprised to learn about Olivia's project. "I would have never guessed that what we did when she was younger made such an impression," says Dr. Shaughnessy, who helped Olivia with her research by answering a few questions about his life, including his own first-grade experience. Olivia's dad, Robbie, was "impressed and shocked" that Dr. Shaughnessy "took the time from his schedule to make Olivia feel important." And that it did. "It meant everything to her that he responded to her request," Heather says.
Olivia's request meant a little something to Dr. Shaughnessy as well. "This is the best kind of honor," he tells us. "Taking care of children is a privilege. I really cannot imagine doing anything else. For someone like me, this is the only kind of honor that matters."
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