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DR. JOSEPH DUTKOWSKY (Orthopedic Surgeon): This is a young person who has a genetic missing piece of I think genetic 6 chromosome.
BOB FAW, correspondent: In a busy clinic in rural upstate New York, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky sees hundreds of children and adults disabled by disorders which leave them crippled or deformed. Or in the case of 19 year old Omer King Jr., blind and deaf from a metabolic dysfunction.
DUTKOWSKY: (speaking to patient) And we are going to pull. One, two, three.
FAW: As a doctor, everything Dutkowsky does is informed by his deep Catholic faith.
DUTKOWSKY: (speaking to nurse) Let’s get Jr. out here.
Was it St. Francis who said, “To preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.” And so, you do it with your actions. People don’t need for me to preach at them. People don’t need for me to lecture them. They need, they need for me to care. They need for me to walk in with the love of God and to try and share it in any way that I can.
FAW: Whether treating Jr. or two married cerebral palsy patients, Josie and Chris Rosa.
DUTKOWSKY: (to Chris Rosa) You look like you should be bringing in an aircraft with that on it or something.
(to Josie Rosa): What you up to? You’re looking well today.
JOSIE ROSA: Yeah. We got to talk.
DUTKOWSKY: We got to talk. We can talk. That’s for sure.
FAW: Dr. Dutkowsky is unfailingly patient, willing to listen no matter how long it takes.
JOSIE: I know this might sound strange but can you test me for osteoarthritis?
DUTKOWSKY: (to Josie) Yeah. I’m happy to do that.
Patients like this, they need me to listen to them. They need somebody who cares enough to listen to their story, because they all have a story, they all have a need.
FAW: 57 year old Dutkowsky was an engineer when he says he got the calling to become a doctor.
DUTKOWSKY: I applied to medical school and I wrote my essay. I wrote that I wanted to take some of this technology and figure out a way to help people with disabilities. Now there’s nobody disabled in my family. There was nobody that I knew of who had a disability that I was thinking about when I did it. So I, I would take that as a Holy Spirit moment.
(to Jeremiah): Run, run, run back.
FAW: Most days here, Dutkowsky sees 25 to 30 patients like 8 year old Jeremiah Harrington, born with a club foot. For each patient, Dutkowsky uses an old-fashioned, leisurely approach rarely encountered in modern medical practice today.
DUTKOWSKY: (to Jeremiah) Can I look at your feet? Can I look at your feet? Thank you.
From a spiritual standpoint what I try and do as a physician is that even if I can’t cure the situation, even if I can’t cure the condition, if even I can’t make it all go away, if they’re being overburdened with that cross, if I can just hold up a corner sometimes, it might make it light enough for them to be able to carry it and move on.
FAW: Here in the country, he does more than just listen, give injections and comfort to anxious parents. Every Monday at the Bassett Medical Center in Cooperstown, he operates on severely disabled children and before each surgery, he prays.
DUTKOWSKY: It’s an overwhelming responsibility. And if I try and go in there on my own I run so many risks of failure. But if I come in and I and ask God to be with me and help me, that even in those cases where it might not work out perfectly, I’m with him and I can be in peace.
(while driving): I was born and raised in the country. I love being out here.
FAW: Dutkowsky isn’t anchored to the country though. Every week, crucifix nearby, he drives into New York City to see patients, three hours plus on the road often spent in prayer.
DUTKOWSKY: It’s a prayer to the Holy Spirit. It’s “Holy Spirit, soul of my soul, I adore thee. Enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what to do and command me to do it.”
FAW: Here, anywhere for that matter, Joseph Dutkowsky is not reluctant to display his faith.
DUTKOWSKY: Good morning, good day. Hello, God bless you. How you doing?
FAW: But he never imposes his beliefs on anyone.
DUTKOWSKY: I’m not out there to tell them what to believe. But if I make that opening, and it’s important to them, then it can be part of their care.
FAW: It is a ministry he takes each week to New York Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital where at the Cerebral Palsy Center he sees patients like 10 year old Devon Ramsaram.
HARICHARD RAMSARAM (Devon’s father): After this shot, can we send him to school tomorrow?
FAW: Dutkowsky hopes the medical community will learn, from treatments pioneered here, how to treat cerebral palsy patients not just when they’re young but also as they grow older.
DUTKOWSKY: Country doctor, coming down to wonderful, you know, one of the finest medical centers in the world. I was way out of my comfort zone. But what’s the risk? If I fail, yeah, I got a little egg on my face. Big deal. But if we succeed, we can move the world.
JENNIFER SNYDER: (to Dr. Dutkowsky) He can’t get comfortable.
FAW: Two year old Nathan has a rare congenital disorder. His mother Jennifer feels about the same as most parents do when it comes to Dr. D as he is affectionately called.
SNYDER: He listens, yes. He’s a listener. He understands. He takes the time to educate a person such as myself.
CHRIS ROSA: A lot of doctors don’t listen. They just want to do what they gotta do for you and go away. Just because we may look funny doesn’t mean you should talk over us or through us.
FAW: It’s not like that with Dr. D though is it.
JOSIE ROSA: No, No. Because Dr. Dutkowsky would never treat us any different. He treats us with respect and decency.
FAW: And knowing that Dutkowsky is a man of faith reassures many, even non-Christians like Devon’s father Harichard Ramsaram.
HARICHARD RAMSARAM: Well it does, it does make me feel comfortable because it means that he has some sense of responsibility in what he does. You know what I’m saying? Because whoever believes in God does have a sense of caring, guidance. You know what I’m saying?
FAW: Treating so many young disabled patients might shake a person’s faith in a merciful God.
(to Dr. Dutkowsky): Do ever ask yourself why did God let that happen?
DUTKOWSKY: No, I don’t, because what I see when I see Omer, I go in that room and I feel love. It’s an energy from outside that draws me in.
FAW: There are bodies that are, forgive me, misshapen, malformed, twisted, crippled, and you see in that the likeness of God?
DUTKOWSKY: Yes, I do. I see the image and likeness of God in every one of those individuals.
FAW: For Dr. Dutkowsky then, faith and medicine intersect, complement one another. Seeing affliction, he also finds something meaningful.
DUTKOWSKY: There are days I go home with tears in my eyes because suffering is real. But sharing suffering is a gift. The depth of that love, the depth of that commitment, the depth of working with individuals like that, that’s the privilege.
FAW: Dutkowsky says he doesn’t heal, that only God can do that. In the meantime, this old-fashioned man of faith and modern man of science continues a ministry to both body and soul.
DUTKOWSKY: All right, God love you.
FAW: For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, this is Bob Faw in Delphi, New York.