Friday, March 14, 2014

Hitting the pavement for two special patients

GIVING BACK: Obando with Saul and Lizany

When Aura Obando, MD, a medicine-pediatrics resident in her last year of residency, looks back upon her time at the MGH, her thoughts always return to the Sanchez-Ruballos family. Her time treating siblings Saul and his older sister, Lizany Sanchez-Ruballos, during her first year of residency was both the worst and best patient experience of her fledgling career.

Obando will run the Boston Marathon in their honor as part of the Mass General Marathon Team, Fighting Kids’ Cancer ... One Step at a Time, which raises money for the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Unit. Lizany, 5, will serve as her patient partner.

“I’ve been caring for patients like Saul and Lizany for the last four years and I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs,” Obando says. “This was an opportunity for me to give back.”

Obando’s friendship with the Sanchez-Ruballos family began three years ago, during her first rotation in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Saul, then 3 months old, was being prepped for an early morning emergency surgery.

“He was really sick,” Obando says. “We told the family we weren’t sure he would survive the surgery.”

His parents, who primarily speak Spanish, requested a priest baptize him, but because of the early hour there were no Spanish-speaking priests available. Obando, a certified Spanish language interpreter, was asked to translate.

“I couldn’t even look at the family,” Obando says. “I just had to repeat the words in Spanish because I knew if I looked at them, I wouldn’t be able to interpret. Finally, as we were finishing I looked at them and that was it for me.”

Early the next year, Obando was working on a pediatric floor when Lizany was admitted. Despite interacting with multiple doctors, it was clear to Obando that Lizany’s father did not understand his daughter’s diagnosis.

“I found myself telling him that she had leukemia while watching his face and seeing how he held her tighter,” Obando says. “I thought, ‘My God this family has gone through so much and here I am going through something horrible again with them.’ ”

But the family says it was Obando’s support that held them together. “Every time my husband and I were with Saul and Lizany in the hospital, I remember Dr. Obando being there for us,” says Lillian Ruballos, the children’s mother. “It was nice to have a confidant at a time that was so stressful for us.”

Obando has followed Saul and Lizany’s progress and both are doing well. Saul is a happy and healthy 3-year-old, and Lizany is now in remission. “It was so difficult for me to process the bad luck this family had,” Obando says. “Now they are doing so well. They turned out to be two of the most powerful patient experiences in my training.”

Obando is excited to interact with Lizany as her patient partner for the Boston Marathon. “It’s just really special,” says Obando. “I’ve been thinking about what I’m going to say to them when I see them and how it will be totally different this time.”

On April 21, the Sanchez-Ruballos family will return the favor and cheer for Obando as she runs past mile marker 20. “To me, she is more than a doctor, she is a friend,” Ruballos says. “We are so happy and proud of her for running. Not only is she taking the time to run for my children, but also for all of the other patients at Mass General Hospital for Children.”

Learn more about Obando or donate at For more information about this year’s teams, visit

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