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Walk on Water: Inside an Elite Pediatric Surgical Unit

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  902 Ratings  ·  76 Reviews
Michael Ruhlman is fascinated by people at work-especially those in pursuit of perfection. "The Soul of a Chef" and "Wooden Boats" have established him as a deft chronicler of unique cultural microcosms. Now, in "Walk on Water," he documents life in the most intense environment yet-a pediatric heart center specializing in neonatal open-heart surgery. The precision needed f ...more
Hardcover, 340 pages
Published April 14th 2003 by Viking Adult (first published 2003)
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Jun 04, 2011 Missy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As an adult with congenital heart disease and two children with heart defects, I am pretty much an 'expert' at having heart problems. This book is spot on about how it feels to be a parent of heart babies and patient with heart defects. I like to see both sides of the fence (the medical professional side and the patient side). Ruhlman delivers both. It provides insight to those who have never had to deal with any health issues with their children (thankfully...i wouldn't wish it on anybody). It ...more
Feb 01, 2016 Leslie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After our experience with Cam I didn't think I'd be able to read this, and it definitely was tough at times. But mostly this book, which follows the intense lives of pediatriac cardiac surgeons and their teams, left me feeling astounded at the amazing advancements in the field over just the last decades. And grateful. So very grateful.
May 18, 2008 Mary rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author, a journalist, spends a year with pediatric cardio surgeons. I've given this book to every young person I know who wants to be a doctor.
Oct 17, 2008 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, medicine
This book was incredible to me not only because I lived near the Cleveland Clinic and remember many of the events and people presented in these stories, but also because Michael Ruhlman has a wonderful way of approaching and describing the most delicate and the most disturbing scenes that can, and frequently do, occur in hospitals.

This is a year in the life of celebrated pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Roger Mee. Ruhlman shadowed Mee in 2000, following him from home to office to OR and on roun
Jennifer Mccann
A friend recommended this book to me when we were discussing our children's common pediatric cardiologist. She mentioned that our doctor was mentioned in this book. So it is always interesting to read a book in which a person you know is mentioned.

It is the story of Roger Mee (mostly) and his team at the Cleveland Clinic, and how they are the FOREMOST congenital pediatric heart surgery team in the world. It is at times mired in technical detail and at times heart breaking. It is the technical de
Apr 12, 2009 Samantha rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book, though I found it to be sad at most points. Rather, I mean that to say that I am glad both of my children were born without heart defects.
Ruhlman presents a brief history of heart surgery, and a good picture of those that make congenital heart surgery their work. He does an excellent job of showing those members both as human, as the miracle-workers that they are seen to be by outsiders. I liked his voice within the book, like that of a friend, who got to tag along and was sho
Feb 13, 2008 Deb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Ruhlman is a local celebrity and a fairly nice guy. I see him at our community pool all summer and his kid is in my daughter's Montessori classroom.

In addition to all that ephemera, I appreciate the premise of his work. My partner first started reading his books about world class chefs and what it takes to work in a top kitchen, an area of interest to her. I was not so interested in reading about cooking but this book, about pediatric cardiac surgery, grabbed my attention since I used to
Sep 08, 2014 Jayme rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I decided to read this book because next year my husband will be starting his pediatric congenital surgery fellowship. This book gave me a well rounded idea of what his life, our family's life and those lives affected with these conditions are/will be like. The world of congenital heart defects is a very encompassing/consuming place. It is filled with joy and heartache not only for the families that are dealing with a loved one with these issues but also for those that spend their lives fixing a ...more
Ellen Keim
Sep 29, 2015 Ellen Keim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read several books by this author and this is probably my favorite. But that could partly be because I'm very interested in anything to do with medicine. The author is a meticulous and rigorously honest writer and that serves this book especially well, because of the subject matter. This is much more than a book about the renowned pediatric heart surgeon, Dr. Roger Mee. It also extensively covers the different types of heart defects as well as the ways that they have been handled over time. ...more
Rebecca Ashcraft
Feb 26, 2008 Rebecca Ashcraft rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book gave a wonderful overview of the origination of pediatric and adult cardiac surgery programs. I had no idea most of the huge strides had occurred during my lifetime...

I recommend this book to anyone related to a cardiac surgeon (hi, Kara and Abi!), anyone in medical school (hi, Cordel!), and anyone who wants to read the most beautiful description of how a heart forms in utero (hi, everybody in the word!).
Jul 19, 2008 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Beth by: hlhs web group
Having a child with a serious heart defect (hlhs--mentioned in the book) and 3 open heart surgeries ( I read this between #2 & #3), it gave me more understanding and appreciation for the surgeons and hospital staff. True to life from a parent of a child who has spent weeks in the hospital on a roller coaster. A bit intense--not a book to read soon before a scheduled surgery.
Rob Loflin
Nov 22, 2007 Rob Loflin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone
excellent book about a great surgeon and how he came to be. the author specializes in writing books about people who do things well. he's written one about boat builders that i liked and another one about chefs.
Nov 19, 2008 Carrie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book- mostly because i knew most of the children;s surgical team when i was working at the Clinic. They really are spectacular people!
Mar 05, 2008 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
MY DREAM JOB!!! Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon - awesome!! Great book for anyone who wants motivation to be great at whatever they do!
This is the first congenital pediatric heart book I ever read. I ended up doing my final nursing paper on CHD in children.
Oct 27, 2008 Paula rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This amazing doctor was our Granadson's first open-heart surgeon.
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
This is a very good book. I have read Michael Ruhlman's books about chefs/cooking and enjoyed them very much, but this book is even better than those. It is well written, as is usual for Ruhlman, but more importantly, it opens a window on the very specialized world of pediatric heart surgery. Really good pediatric heart surgeons, of which there are very few, walk on water as they often save the lives of desperately ill infants and children who are born with complex heart malformations, hence the ...more
Mar 27, 2012 Darryl rated it liked it
Author and journalist Michael Ruhlman's fascination with people at the top of their professions, who seek perfection in themselves and those around them, led a friend of his to refer him to Dr. Roger Mee, the head of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic and one of the world's best heart surgeons. Ruhlman spent two months shadowing Dr. Mee, his colleagues and assistants in the OR and the PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), and the parents who entrusted him with the lives of ...more
Nov 07, 2013 Shelley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This author tells both the medical and human side of the intense, stressful, beautiful and heartbreaking world of Pediatric Cardiac Surgery, mostly centered at the Cleveland Clinic, where the world renowned surgeon Roger Mee is on staff. I work at Children's in the CVCC (Cardiovascular Care Center) where we take these babies/kids right from the OR and care for them (fingers crossed) as they journey down that path toward home. One of our 2 cardiac surgeons, who I see everyday I've worked for the ...more
Note: While parents and especially parents-to-be may find this a difficult book to read, I think all should read it in case their child ever needs heart surgery. It will certainly educate them better about the process than doctors or anyone else would take the time to should they find themselves in that unfortunate circumstance.

I love this type of non-fiction book because it opens a whole new world to me that I had never before imagined. The author does a superb job of describing not only the ph
Jen Lepp
Reading this as a CHD parent was occasionally very, very difficult. It was also periodically enlightening, educational, and infuriating.

Having been a "Heart Mom" (knowingly) for 12 years now, I thought by this time I was pretty much an expert. I understood in general what the ultrasounds showed, what the EKG's measured, the structural issues and the problems with the structural issues. What happened once my kiddo flew through those doors on the way to surgery and what happened once he was in the
Susan Olesen
Oct 16, 2013 Susan Olesen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit confused, because the subtitle on my copy says, "Inside an elite pediatric surgical unit". Either way, books like this about "specialties" are a dime a dozen, but this is one of the best I've ever read. The author strikes a very nice balance between following case histories and discussing the lives of the surgical team involved. Neonatal and pediatric cardiology is an elite specialty, done well by only a handful of surgeons around the world. The author raises many valid points over parents ...more
Jennifer Burke
My husband is a devotee of Ruhlman's and has read nearly everything he's written -- many times over. This is his favorite both because of subject matter and how well he treats it. After my husband was diagnosed with a heart condition and it became likely that he'd need surgery, and at the Cleveland Clinic no less, I too picked up Walk on Water. I expected it to be perhaps too historical, or too full of jargon and medical terms. But instead what I read was a riveting, insightful, in-depth (ethnog ...more
Kelly Sapp
Aug 02, 2012 Kelly Sapp rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating. This surgeon was THE best pediatric heart surgeon in the world--having to literally re-hook up infant's hearts who were born with the valves/veins/etc. in the wrong place. Like a genius mechanic, and like the very hand of God, this doctor could fix anything, and controlled the variables by training his team of nurses and doctors to ALWAYS perform the operations with exact, specific, same-order procedures--anal about them--to avoid infections, errors, etc.

He was/is sooooo good, in fa
Dec 30, 2013 Kristy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ruhlman is not a doctor and instead spends several months observing and learning about the world of pediatric heart surgery by following primarily one noted surgery. The language is still heavily medical but I found the book to be a good resource for learning more about CHDs and their "fixes" today and over time. He does supplement the history and medical information with very detailed cases of specific children and their surgeries, care, and outcomes and those are very very difficult to read bu ...more
Oct 13, 2015 Ashleigh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent examination of the world of pediatric heart surgery and congenital heart disease treatment. As a pediatric cardiologist, I can tell you that there is a lot of truth here. Read this book and be informed, especially if you have a child with congenital heart disease.
John Pienta
Sep 16, 2014 John Pienta rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Ruhlman has done a fantastic job illuminating the characters of this drama. Walk on Water proves to be an incisive look into the world of congenital heart surgery and illustrates pretty clearly just what kind of people the surgeons, intensivists, and other health professionals are. I immensely enjoyed the journey he took me on and I would highly recommend the book to anyone with interest in congenital heart surgery or even surgery in general. Strong work.


John NB Pienta.
Feb 24, 2014 Sara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a mother of a child with chds, this book gives me hope and insight. I can understand the doctors side better and I feel that there are true artists out there fixing our babies' hearts with amazing care, skill, and precision. Bless these heroes of the heart world!
Sep 06, 2015 Sue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non-fiction. Excellent history of pediatric cardiac surgery's & the absolute miracle of life. I was fascinated by the evolution of a baby's heart from conception until as an embryo of 8 weeks it has a complete functioning heart the size of a pinhead. Amazing.
Dec 18, 2014 Jerianna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was very well-written and very captivating, and I would have given it a five if the author didn't run under the illusion that the only way to add emphasis is with an expletive.
For this reason, I can't recommend it.
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Congenital Heart ...: Walk on Water - what did you think? 1 4 Mar 03, 2012 05:57PM  
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Michael Ruhlman (born 1963 in Cleveland, Ohio) is an American writer. He is the author of 11 books, and is best known for his work about and in collaboration with American chefs, as well as other works of non-fiction.

Ruhlman grew up in Cleveland and was educated at University School (a private boys' day school in Cleveland) and at Duke University, graduating from the latter in 1985. He worked a se
More about Michael Ruhlman...

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“Living in this world will change you,” she confides. “It makes me value life. When a friend has a healthy baby, I don’t think it’s normal; I think it’s a fucking miracle.” 7 likes
“Always look for sparrows before you look for canaries.” 0 likes
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