Kindness In Action
It started with a Croatian basketball player named Igor Perica. The 6-foot, 7-inch power forward had torn his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his knee and came to me for the reconstruction surgery.
At the time, I was an orthopedic consultant for the Chicago Bulls, he was a stranger in a strange land, and I wanted to make the experience as positive as I could. I negotiated reduced hospital and medical costs on his behalf, arranged a hotel room for him near the hospital, and visited him each day during his stay.
The surgery was a success and Igor even met his future wife while here. (The wedding was held in Chicago and yes, I was invited!)
Igor said many times that he wanted to do something to repay me, but I always replied that meeting him and a successful surgery were more than enough. I certainly never expected anything else.
Kindness – Pass It Along
Two months later, Igor sent me another patient who was living in his home country — Irina Kirilova, the most famous female volleyball player in the world. She had also torn her ACL and Igor convinced her to book a consultation with me by saying “You can do what you like, but I feel so good about Dr. Lewis. He was like a friend.”
After surgery, she too regained her previous abilities. As with Igor, I did my best to make her experience as positive as possible, including surprising her during one postoperative visit by decorating the hotel room where she was staying with colorful streamers and balloons to celebrate her birthday.
Spending time at the Bulls’ practice facility to rehabilitate with the help of their strength and conditioning team was easily as important as the surgery in her recovery from ACL surgery. When she returned to Europe, she played at the highest professional levels for several more years.
Witnessing Irina Kirilova’s successful result from surgery and her subsequent outstanding career has been a highlight of my medical career. We became good friends, and several years later my wife and I visited her in Italy.*
If I had to pick only one piece of advice to pass on to my children, grandchildren, and students, my top pick would be this: to perform acts of kindness without expectation of anything in return.
Sometimes after doing a good deed, you will hear people say, “You owe me one.” In my experience, the karma is far better when the giving comes without strings attached. I’m continually amazed at how often the rewards far exceed the original effort.
I love how the celebrated poet Maya Angelou expressed the sentiment:
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”