By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, firstname.lastname@example.org
As a kid, Brian Gray was a cowboy at heart.
He had the boots, and he had the horse (at his grandparents’ farm).
But kids grow into adults, and that little boy traded in his cowboy dreams for the life of a surgeon.
Today, Dr. Brian Gray is on the pediatric surgery team at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. And while he may have hung up his hat and left his horse behind, he never gave up his cowboy boots.
“I really enjoy wearing cowboy boots on a daily basis,” he said. “I find they are really comfortable to wear, especially in the operating room. They help my posture.”
Young Jafeth Romo-Gutierrez and his family noticed that Dr. Gray was wearing a pair of good-looking boots when he met with them after removing a large tumor from 8-year-old Jafeth’s kidney back in February.
An idea was born.
“In the post-op conversation that I had with the patient’s father, I was speaking through an interpreter, and at the end of the conversation, Dad had an extra question for me,” Dr. Gray said. “It caught me by surprise, but he asked about the cowboy boots I was wearing.”
The surgeon shared how he grew up riding horses and said his boots came from a company in Texas, but they were actually made in a city in Mexico called Leon.
As fate would have it, Jafeth’s father, Enrique Romo, and his family hail from the same area, where they worked as ranchers before coming to the United States.
“It was a really cool moment where we were able to bond outside of this really heavy diagnosis for his son,” Dr. Gray said. “So every time I saw the family after that, the dad seemed pleased to see I was wearing cowboy boots from his hometown.”
Leon, in the Mexican state of Guanajuato, is known as the “shoe capital of the world.”
Last week, Dr. Gray was notified that a package had been left for him on the oncology unit, where Jafeth returns for regular chemotherapy treatment to remove any trace of the cancer that had attacked his kidney.
“It was this amazing pair of handmade rodeo-style cowboy boots from their hometown in Mexico,” he said. “I was blown away. They are so kind.”
Dr. Gray put the boots to the test almost immediately, wearing them in the operating room while performing surgery.
“I’ve been wearing them all day today. They fit wonderfully.”
On Friday, the surgeon popped into Jafeth’s appointment in the outpatient oncology unit at Riley to say thank you in person to the young boy and his parents. Of course, he was wearing his new boots.
“How ya doing,” he greeted Jafeth, who was wearing a Chicago Cubs cap but no boots himself.
“Good,” the third-grader replied, giving the doctor a thumbs up.
“You look great,” Dr. Gray said. “I am great,” Jafeth responded.
The surgeon showed Jafeth and his parents the boots on his feet and thanked them again for their kindness.
“They’re awesome,” Jafeth said. “My dad had the idea and I said yes.”
Dr. Gray wondered how Jafeth’s dad had sized him up so accurately because the boots fit like a glove. But it turns out Enrique asked around to get the doctor’s boot size before placing the order.
“I am glad you are comfortable with them,” the older man said through interpreter Erika Ramos, again expressing his appreciation for the surgeon’s work.
“I would never expect something like this from a patient’s family,” Dr. Gray said, but no doubt he will treasure this gift and, more importantly, the goodwill that comes with it.
“I love what I do, even without the sweet, handmade Mexican cowboy boots.”
Photos by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, email@example.com