Fred Epstein was a renowned pediatric neurosurgeon at NYU Medical Center when he was offered the chance to build, from scratch, the Institute for Neurology and Neurosurgery – a kid-friendly, family-friendly and staff-friendly place where a state-of-the-art medical facility also became a sanctuary for patients, their families and the medical staff who treated both their physical and emotional needs.
It was the impact of a poem written by a young patient who died that prompted "Dr. Fred" to remember the humanity and compassion that was his duty to give, as well as his superior medical skills. It was his young, critically ill patients who daily reminded both their own families and the medical staff that courage and compassion is a gift we bestow upon others, and is not a natural instinct. It was the children suffering from brain and brain stem tumors who, many times, were the guiding forces in their own mental outlook, treatments and post-operative goals.
If I Get to Five is filled with tales of courage, optimism and hope – but it is also riddled with sad tales of young lives lost. Still, each and every one of the children of whom Dr. Epstein writes had one thing in common: they shared eternal hope, extreme dignity in the face of overwhelming odds, and a mature acceptance of their lot in life that many adults could never face head-on.
Dr. Epstein’s book is divided into five parts; Hold Someone’s Hand, Live in the Moment, Face Your Fears, Believe in Miracles, Play to Your Strengths and Love Without Boundaries. Each of these chapters is filled with wit, wisdom, and inescapable truths. These lessons don’t come from psychologists, religious leaders or adults holding doctorates or degrees. These lessons come from children of varying ages, and, as Dr. Epstein says, it truly is amazing what one can learn from a child if we only choose to listen.
After decades of brilliant surgery, Dr. Epstein was in an accident that left him in a coma at almost sixty years of age. Once over that hurdle, he had to cope with semi-paralysis and a year of constant physical therapy. He is slowly rebuilding his life, and hopes one day to resume his career as a neurosurgeon, but rest assured, Dr. Epstein will continue to help others, no matter what he does. He has written a touching book about our most valuable assets, and has given us an opportunity to see, through his eyes and those of "his kids," that there is nothing in life that is insurmountable.