Skip to navigation menu Skip to content


A 6 year old African-American child in a children's hospital, lying on a hospital gurney wearing a surgical cap and hospital gown, looking up at her doctors, smiling.

Positive Attitude

If you ask my 5-year-old about his hospital vacation from last summer, his face will light up as if he went on an adventure to Disney World. He'll tell you that he got to have an awesome sleepover, with new movies and new toys. He'll also tell you that he got to eat so many yummy foods and that he can't wait to go back.

From his description, you would never know that he was talking about having open heart surgery.

Our son was born with both a cleft lip and palate and a heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. He had his first major heart surgery when he was only 6 days old. My husband was also born with a cleft lip and palate and had some important insight regarding the way we handled these major health events. In those first few days of our son's life, he explained that he remembers the anxiety that came before surgery day. He wanted us to do everything in our power to alleviate our son's anxiety, by maintaining a positive attitude throughout everything. Easier said than done, but totally worth it!

It's all about perspective. From that first surgery on, we always tried to smile, even when we were struggling with our own anxieties. We contained our worries when he was in the room. As he got older, we put a positive spin on every trip we made to CHKD. We never hid the fact that he was going to have surgery, but we were sure to highlight the positive reasons behind it and how much fun we were going to have while we are there.

For example, before his heart surgery last summer, we told him he was going to have a very special sleepover at CHKD. The first day, he was going to have heart surgery, so that he could continue to grow big and strong, and run even faster than he can now. After that, we would watch movies, pick whatever food he wanted, and play with toys all day long.

It's important to note that none of this would be possible without the incredible staff at CHKD. Every single doctor and nurse are the best of the best. They perfectly manage anesthesia and pain management, so our children are as comfortable as possible. They have staff members to answer questions about the surgery process and to let children smell the different anesthesia gas flavors before their big day (bubblegum, anyone?). They have child life specialists, who bring toys to the bedside and orchestrate special events. Last summer, the Norfolk Zoo partnered with the San Diego Zoo to put on a show, that was broadcast to every room in CHKD. Child life made sure we were ready to watch when it premiered and brought us a special goody bag, full of animal-themed toys and activities.

So far, maintaining a positive attitude seems to be working pretty well. Although, I'll be the first to admit, its effects may not last forever. For now, our son doesn't have hesitations or fears when going to CHKD for appointments or when preparing for surgery. He takes the uncomfortable parts in stride (he'll tell you the worst part of heart surgery is taking the “tiny” bandages off when he gets home). Most importantly, he looks forward with positivity.

Although it's not always easy, it's definitely worth trying to keep a positive outlook for our children from Day 1. It just might change their outlook for life.

Thank you to all the amazing staff members at CHKD.

Like this post?

Sign up to receive our once monthly email with more kids' health tips from the region's most trusted name in pediatric health care.

About Craniofacial Parent Advisory Council

About Craniofacial Parent Advisory Council

CHKD's Craniofacial Parent Advisory Council consists of current and former patients and family members who have experienced care at our Cleft and Craniofacial Center. Council members provide feedback to ensure the craniofacial center consistently offers the best care possible. They also directly support other patients and families undergoing treatment. All members undergo an application process before being selected for the council.