Go 'Behind the Mask' at Seattle Children's Hospital



Posted on June 20, 2010 at 8:10 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 25 at 2:15 PM

At 6:38 in the morning, snooze alarms beep for a second time and pots of coffee brew as Seattle's work force wakes up. For many employees hitting the road, this will be another day on the job, another day behind the desk. Big challenges may lie ahead.

But odds are it's not brain surgery, unless you're Dr. Richard Ellenbogen. Dr. Ellenbogen's day started before sunrise.

At 6:55 a.m. this world-renowned neurosurgeon is already behind schedule due to a medical emergency. His day is jam-packed, but can't be rushed, not when a young girl needs a debilitating tumor removed from her brain.

"You have to execute your job perfectly.  And, you have to be able to focus without getting emotional.  Can't get upset in the O.R. if things go horribly, especially in my field, bleeding happens," he said.

Dr. Margarett Shnorhavorian can count on a busy day, too. While her husband and 3-year-old daughter greet the morning at home, she preps for the most intimate of surgeries.

Her specialty is urology and fixing disorders of the sex organs.

"It's a combination of treating the urinary tract as well as genitalia in little boys and girls who Mother Nature got it wrong. In other words it doesn't look like a boy, it doesn't look like a girl," she said.

When asked who decides, she said, "That's like the hardest question for a parent, even."

Down the hall at Seattle Children's, a pediatric heart surgeon arrives for his typical day on the job.

"Frankly, if we don't do this, she won't survive," said Dr. Gordon Cohen.

Which means Dr. Cohen can forget about taking any coffee breaks, a bathroom break, maybe.

As usual, he's chained to his desk, a surgery table where he'll face life and death decisions. The health of a baby's failing heart lies in his hands. There is no room for error, no "better job next time."

Everything the surgeons do at Seattle Children's requires perfection. Every day, kids, parents, families depend on them.

So, how do these doctors do it?  And, what really goes on inside the O.R.? Experience their world as we take you "Behind the Mask."