A heartwarming reunion in the OR

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11/17/2021

Keleighweb1

Keleigh Sims underwent heart surgery as a baby. Now she is an operating room nurse on the CV team and recently worked alongside the surgeon who saved her, Dr. John Brown.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Keleigh Sims’ history with Riley Hospital for Children goes back 23 years, when she was an infant and needed lifesaving heart surgery.

She returned to the operating room recently, not as a patient but as an OR nurse, a role she recently accepted after working as a bedside nurse on the heart floor.

Keleigh Sim's Professional photo at Riley Children's Health

Now imagine her surprise last week to find out that one of the surgeons joining her that day in the OR would be none other than the esteemed Dr. John Brown, who retired from full-time work last year but still likes to come in to get his hands dirty, so to speak.

Dr. Mark Rodefeld told the OR crew about 15 minutes before the surgery began that Dr. Brown would be joining to assist.

Sims couldn’t believe her good fortune. When Dr. Brown came in dressed in scrubs, she introduced herself again from behind the mask, reminding him that he had operated on her for a rare combination of heart abnormalities called scimitar syndrome. She also was part of a research study he did on the syndrome.

Baby photo of Sims

He was as stunned as she was, and after chatting for a minute, he suggested they get a picture.

“He airdropped the photo to me and said, ‘you’ve got to send this to your mom,’” which of course she did.

“Just a casual Wednesday in the OR doing heart surgery with the surgeon who did my heart surgeries,” she said. “I’m just in awe that I get the chance to do what I do every day.”

Seeing a world-class surgeon like Dr. Brown take on an assisting role in the OR was amazing to see as well, Sims said.

“I think he just genuinely loves it. He’s holding the heart while Dr. Rodefeld is sewing a patch. He is such an incredible human.”

It takes a big person to assist after 40 years of leading in the OR, Sims said, but for Dr. Brown, the energy of the operating room and helping patients is the draw.

“He is still very much involved in the CV surgical world. It’s crazy how talented he is and how much of an impact he’s had. He saves lives, but he’s so normal.”

For Sims, working in the OR has been humbling.

“It’s like a whole different world down there,” she said. “Seeing what they do is incredible.”

She knew when she applied for and got a spot on the CV operating room team that she would likely be called in to work unplanned shifts. But she took what her mom said to heart.

“How mad could you be if it’s Christmas Day and you have to go in for a heart transplant,” her mom asked her. “That’s an honor.”

Sims agrees.

“My perspective is so different because I’ve been on both sides,” she said. “Just seeing how much these surgeons care, it’s humbling to be in the room.”

Childhood photo of Sims clutching a giraffe stuffed animal

From heart patient to bedside nurse in the heart center to operating room nurse working alongside the surgeon who saved her – she really has come full circle.

“It’s overwhelming. It’s just so cool.”

Related Doctor

related doctor headshot photo

John W. Brown, MD

Transplant Surgery

related doctor headshot photo

Mark D. Rodefeld, MD

Thoracic Surgery