Luis Rodriguez, M.D., M.A.S., is a pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital and specializes in taking care of all conditions affecting a child's brain, spinal cord, spine and nerves. He also cares for patients with head and spine trauma, brain tumors, too much fluid in the head, called hydrocephalus, epilepsy and spina bifida, among other conditions. His love for brains started long ago and during his training, he realized his love for helping children and families, treating each like his own. In this Q&A, Rodriguez explains why this isn’t work for him — it’s his calling and passion.
Why did you pursue a career in pediatric neurosurgery?
From a very young age, I was interested in the brain and how it works. I also like to do things with my hands. When I went to medical school, I realized my passion was the brain and I also wanted to do surgery. When I saw my first brain operation, which was a craniotomy, and saw the living brain, I was hooked. During my training, I did a rotation in pediatric neurosurgery and I found that I could easily relate to the children and enjoyed caring for them. I also wanted to treat every condition in neurosurgery, and pediatric neurosurgery allowed me to do that. As a pediatric neurosurgeon, one day I may be taking care of a brain tumor, the next day might be a spine fusion operation, and the next day I night be performing a surgery with high end technology to treat epilepsy. In a few weeks, I can treat an entire range of conditions that an adult neurosurgeon may not see throughout his or her entire career.
What do you take pride in as a neurosurgeon?
When I was completing my rotation in pediatric neurosurgery, I took care of a very sick child who had been abused; unfortunately, he eventually passed away. I also had a young child at that time who was about the same age and that patient’s death was very hard to take. I remember thinking, this is either going to make me want to be a pediatric neurosurgeon or it is going to push me away. I could almost see that child as my own and put myself in the family's shoes as they were going through this very difficult time and I was able to relate to them through my own child. About a year before that, my youngest brother passed away, and I saw my parents go through the loss of a child. Through those experiences, I was able to relate to the families that were going through a very difficult time in a way that I don't know that I would have been able to if I hadn't experienced that myself. I pride myself on caring for my patients and families by being able to provide not just neurosurgical care, but actually being able to provide human care.
Why do you love your job?
I love my job because I get to work with children. Children heal, and are for the most part, innocent and happy. That’s the way I like to see myself — being happy and care-free. I find kids bring me a lot of joy. We see children go through really difficult times, but eventually they recover. To be able to say that we had a small part in that recovery and success is something that brings me great joy every day.
I love coming to work every day because I have been blessed to work at an institution that is phenomenal from every standpoint. I have partners that are incredible to work with, who are very supportive. I work with a group of nurse practitioners and residents that work as a team with a common goal, to help our patients and families. Someone once said that if you learn to do something you love, then you will never work a day in your life. And a famous poet once wrote that whatever you do in your life, if you can make a difference in one person's life, that is the meaning of success. And that's how I would describe my work here. Through my work, I try to appreciate the beauty in our children and to find the best in others, to try to leave this world a better place.
What makes the Institute for Brain Protection Sciences unique at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital?
Our hospital has cutting edge technology to help us treat our patients. We have a navigation system that allows us to localize lesions inside the patient's brain or spine with very high accuracy — submillimeter accuracy. This makes it safer for us to take care of brain tumors or other lesions. We also use a special robot, which helps us place electrodes in patients' heads to try to find where the seizures are coming from. We also use specialized high-end microscopes. We use state-of-the-art planning software that makes all of our operations safer. When I have very complex cervical spine problems in my patients, the experts in our Center for Medical Simulation and Innovative Education can print a 3D model of a patient's spine so that I can plan out my surgeries. The 3D printer is extremely beneficial when we have complex cervical spine or developmental problems, and I need to plan a complex operation to repair the issue so I can study it, analyze it and then more safely plan our operation.
Why is understanding diversity so important to you?
I'm not native of the United States. I am a U.S. citizen, but I came from a different country. I have learned the power and beauty of diversity, and my life experience allows me to be able to see everybody — not as a disease process, but as a person who has a cultural background, whether they come from the Middle East, United States or any other country. My life-experience helps me respect the fact that everyone is different, and as physicians, we must respect those differences. I am fully fluent in Spanish, so families and patients who also speak Spanish feel comfortable seeing me and speaking with me in their own language.
Why are you proud to work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital?
I know that the work that we do here at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital makes a difference in people's lives. I want families to know that when they choose our team to care for them, we will take care of them and their children as a whole, not just their brain tumor or spine problem. It is a worthwhile endeavor and I’m proud to be a part of a group effort with everybody pushing in the same direction to improve the health care for children. My patients keep me coming back every day and I love spending time with them and seeing them heal. I love feeling like I'm a part of something greater than me. I love coming back to this institution every day to work with my team because everybody at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital is working toward the same goal, to make children better.