If we've learned anything this year, it’s that nothing is more precious than good health. And your child’s pediatrician is a big part of that equation. By finding the ideal doctor for your family, you’ll have a tireless gatekeeper and advocate for your child’s well-being, an endless source of information and reassurance, and someone willing to guide you through the frustrating maze that is our insurance system. Not only will she have your back, but she’ll give you a shoulder to cry on too. Here, moms and dads tell the story of how they knew they had hit the pediatrician jackpot.
Toward the end of pre-K, my daughter’s teacher sent a note home, asking if we’d had a death in our family. We hadn’t, but Ameera’s behavior had changed so dramatically that her teacher was looking for a reason why. She said Ameera had lost focus and could no longer follow instructions in class. She couldn’t even clap her hands in rhythm with the other kids. A school evaluation showed she wasn’t ready for mainstream kindergarten.
I’d been worried about Ameera at home too. I’d noticed that she was clumsy and struggled to convey what she wanted to say. I kept checking her for a fever and closely monitored her diet, but I couldn’t find a cause.
On the day I received the letter, I asked Ameera to open wide for some probiotic powder. That’s when I noticed huge bumps on her tongue.
Immediately, I made an appointment with our pediatrician, Dr. Luba Stein. Instead of dismissing my “mother’s instinct” that something was wrong, she tested Ameera for strep throat, explaining that the bumps indicated she could have had it for a while—even without other symptoms. The longer someone has strep throat, Dr. Stein told me, the more the infection can cause inflammation in the brain. I listed all the changes Ameera’s teacher and I had noticed, and Dr. Stein agreed that strep throat could be the culprit.
Sure enough, Ameera’s test came back positive, and she started antibiotics right away. And when the school refused to reevaluate Ameera for mainstream kindergarten readiness once she’d finished treatment, Dr. Stein stepped in and wrote a detailed letter on our behalf. As soon as the school nurse read it, she assured me Ameera would be retested. Everyone at Ameera’s school knows and trusts Dr. Stein. I feel lucky to have her as our family’s pediatrician.
Now 10, Ameera has been doing great in school without any tutoring or special assistance. She started kindergarten on time with no issues, and I can’t thank Dr. Stein enough for that.
—Zaida Khaze, Fort Lee, NJ
Born prematurely, my daughter, Eliza, spent three months in the neonatal ICU and 10 months in the pediatric ICU. She’s a medically complex kid—she has Down syndrome, a congenital heart defect, and severe airway issues. After her birth, she saw a lot of specialists. When a nurse in the NICU suggested Dr. Stephanie Gehres as our primary pediatrician, I sighed and thought, “OK. Another doctor my baby has to see.” I was wrong. She’s amazing.
Dr. G has made a point of developing a relationship with Eliza’s other doctors, even those who are out of state. The social worker she has on staff helps me with everyday questions. And not once have I ever had to fight with insurance. Dr. G’s office handles all of it—even the appeals.
It’s not only Eliza, now 3, whom Dr. G cares about but also my two older boys and me. When Eliza had to spend weeks in the hospital for a major airway reconstruction, Dr. G. could have just called occasionally to check on me or done nothing. Instead, she visited me in person, every other day, and even brought me coffee. She’s come to Eliza’s birthday parties and brought my sons Christmas gifts. She’s my go-to person. I don’t know how I’d get by without her.
—Jessica Jonkman, Albuquerque, NM
Dr. Bryan Kono has been our doctor since our older son was born five years ago. He brings the ideal blend of Western and alternative strategies to our family’s care. When my kids have ear infections, he treats them with antibiotics but also uses probiotics to try to prevent them. He always has a list of natural remedies we can find at a store or recommendations for things we can make ourselves.
At every appointment, whether scheduled or last-minute, Dr. Kono spends at least a half hour with us. Before the exam, he watches my younger son play or asks my older son how school is going. His practice has grown so fast that he isn’t taking new patients anymore—and when other moms find out that we use Dr. Kono, they get super-jealous!
—Alexis Anderson, Denver, CO
Two years ago, our healthy, athletic 13-year-old awakened to find his right eye and the right side of his mouth drooping. Tola couldn’t drink, smile, chew, or blink on that side of his face.
We called our pediatrician, Dr. Leslie Smith, and were at her office within the hour. She thought that Tola had Bell’s palsy, a form of temporary facial paralysis, but she wanted to be absolutely sure.
Although Bell’s palsy doesn’t require an MRI, Dr. Smith ordered one. On our way home, she called and asked us to return to her office. The MRI had revealed a brain tumor.
We were devastated, but because Dr. Smith caught the tumor early, Tola had it successfully removed. His outcome could have been very different if Dr. Smith hadn’t been so concerned. We found out later that Tola actually did have Bell’s palsy as well as the tumor—and the symptoms were unrelated. Without question, our pediatrician saved our son’s life.
When we tell other people this story, they gasp at first. Then they ask if Dr. Smith is accepting new patients. They’re in awe when I tell them how she treats even a stuffy nose with the same care and attention. We are so grateful.
—Carole Ligon Oduyoye, Kernersville, NC
At age 2, my child began making comments about their gender-specific anatomy that I knew weren’t typical. I thought, “OK, let’s wait and watch.” Over the years, that’s what I did.
As a parent, I knew I needed to take care of my child, but I didn’t feel brave enough to do it alone.
Looking back, I was extremely passive. I was so fearful about the experience that awaited them—especially in the Southern Christian environment where we live. Although we discussed things at home, I didn’t dare address what was going on with our family doctor.
When my child was 9, I happened to see Dr. Ximena Lopez, who is a pediatric endocrinologist, in Dallas, on the local news. When she talked about her specialty—working with transgender or gender-nonconforming children—she exuded love and kindness. Even though her office is an hour away from our home, I made an appointment.
From that very first meeting, Dr. Lopez made my child feel human. She had unending patience and allowed our entire family to ask questions as needed. She gave my child control over the decisions being made about their body, like whether and when to start hormones to transition. And when my child decided to legally change their name to Bethany, Dr. Lopez helped us wade through the legal paperwork.
Today, Bethany, 13, is confident and smart, and has a group of close friends. She loves to cook and wants to be a lawyer when she grows up. Her ability to thrive is directly related to Dr. Lopez, who is now my daughter’s primary doctor. There’s no manual for caring for a transgender child. Everyone’s experience is different, but Dr. Lopez is the partner I needed.
— Sally K., Dallas, TX
Our pediatrician, Dr. Nimali Fernando, goes by Dr. Yum because her philosophy focuses on food as medicine. Her exam rooms are themed around different fruits and vegetables, with information that shows how eating well can prevent long-term disease. It’s bright and fun, and makes going to the doctor seem exciting, not scary.
Dr. Yum also has a garden with herbs and vegetables and a kitchen where she teaches parents how to make healthy foods, and where kids get to test them out. That’s how my husband and I learned that kids need to explore their food and that when they’re exposed to textures, colors, and “weird” foods early on, they grow up to be less-picky eaters.
I come from a family with a long history of diabetes and heart disease, but Dr. Yum is helping me end that cycle. Both my husband and I are now more cognizant of our health and how we feel when we don’t eat good food. We prep meals in advance so we’re not stuck getting takeout and have gotten rid of the idea that eating well means buying overpriced food with a pretty label.
My daughter, Maya, now 4, doesn’t even like most “kid foods” like fries and ice cream because she was introduced at an early age to healthy foods. When we moved 75 miles away, Dr. Yum offered to help us find another pediatrician, but nope, we kept her! She’s well worth the drive.
—Erin Kiblawi, Fredericksburg, VA
This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's June 2020 issue as “Love at First Checkup.” Want more from the magazine? Sign up for a monthly print subscription here