Growing up, I always thought I knew what a hero was. At first, my heroes were Batman and Superman. Later, as I learned to love sports, my heroes became talented athletes who played on my favorite teams. Even as a young boy, I felt character was important for these people, but I never stopped to wonder what contribution, other than immense superhuman strength (as seen in the fictional characters of comic books) or athleticism (as seen in the sports “stars”), these heroes made to society. I would wait for hours before and after games hoping to meet these people, take a picture with them, and get their autograph with so I could frame it. I never stopped to define the actual word and reflect on its meaning.
According to Webster’s Dictionary, a hero is “a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability, an illustrious warrior, a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities, one who shows great courage, the principal male character in a literary or dramatic work, the central figure in an event, period, or movement, or an object of extreme admiration and devotion”.
I guess my original thoughts on the word would fit this definition. However, my thinking evolved as I matured. Between my first and second year of medical school, I was fortunate to work at a camp as a medical assistant. This camp was unique as the campers all had cancer or had siblings with cancer. There I learned amazing life lessons that I continue to carry with me today. Most importantly, I realized that the word hero meant something more to me than it did when I was a kid. See, I got to meet many of my heroes that summer. My heroes became those brave children who stared disease in the face and won (or were still actively fighting). In my mind, their achievements outweighed those accomplished by any of the sports stars that I admired in my youth.
I continue to be blessed by meeting more and more heroes each day in my epilepsy clinic – Not only children with epilepsy, but also their amazing, supportive families. These heroes possess far more strength and courage than any superhero or professional athlete. They have to make very difficult life decisions on treatment options and trust those around them to provide the best advice for their medical needs. For this and much more, they have the admiration and devotion of not only myself, but all of the staff in The Pediatric Epilepsy Center at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
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