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The Bird Has Landed – Don Bird’s Journey to America

Dr. Kaufman with Don Bird

That’s the title that phrenic nerve surgery patient Don Bird gave on his Don Bird Foundation website blog to describe his arrival in New Jersey. After his year-long quest (including family and friends doing substantial fundraising) to reach our shores from his native Australia, Don Bird is, in fact, here (and literally photographing the leftover snow from the recent storm).

The past two days consisted of media appearances by both patient and physician, Dr. Matthew Kaufman, and to watch and listen to the two of them was nothing short of both heartening and inspiring.

Often those of us not intimately involved with illness or medical procedures are not privy to what underlies this journey. At the conclusion of the hour-long on-air interview on WCTC Radio, and less than 48 hours before his surgery, Don Bird said: What I haven’t expressed yet is that if nothing more comes of this, my family and I are glad we made the journey.

For Bird and his wife, an apparent “pit bull” who never took “no” for an answer from Don’s Australian physicians and searched the Internet to find Dr. Kaufman, the quest has brought out the best in their community: from their 14-year-old son bike riding over 1,000 kilometers in ten days for fundraising for his dad (that netted $13,000); to the three schools his children attend each waiving the year’s tuition on behalf of his Don Bird Foundation—as Bird said on the air, “Sometimes saying thank you just doesn’t seem like enough.”

I Knew I’d Found the Right Surgeon

It takes an enormous amount of time, testing, phone consultations with fellow physicians, and plain old paperwork to arrange for any patient to undergo surgery. Imagine how complicated all that is with connections between New Jersey and Don Bird’s native Australia. (Kudos to Heather O’Neill, who assisted Dr. Kaufman and was the “lifeline” connection between Bird and The Institute for Advanced Reconstruction and Dr. Kaufman).

Considering the time difference, Bird and his wife at one point awaited a scheduled call from Dr. Kaufman—at 4 am Australian time. “I’m sorry for waking you up,” Dr. Kaufman said to Bird. “What doctor says something like that?!” Bird told us as he related the story. He then added that after that gesture and comment by Dr. Kaufman, “I knew I’d found our man.”

Divine Luck

Don Bird made it out of Australia one day before Qantas Airlines, his scheduled carrier, went on strike and shut down operations. He made it with one day to spare before the sudden East Coast snowstorm shut down local airport operations.

Welcome to New Jersey

The Jersey Shore Medical Center left Bird, his 16-year-old daughter, and his mother-in-law, who escorted him, a few “provisions” in their hotel when they arrived: a humidifier, some coconut cream cakes, and a double album of Bruce Springsteen.

Dr. Kaufman & Co.

Among those observing Don Bird’s surgery will be Dr. Shaocheng Zhang of Changhai Hospital. Dr. Zhang has rerouted peripheral nerves to restore function in hundreds of patients with spinal cord injuries, a procedure not currently done in the United States. Dr. Zhang is part of the symposium on November 5, Innovative Solutions for Spinal Cord Injury, Paralysis, and Neuropathy: A Multispecialty Approach.

Additional Reading:

Don Bird’s Procedure