Forrest Potter grew up at Seattle Children’s watching by the bedside as his little brother faced a debilitating diagnosis, Leigh Syndrome (LS), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder.
Nearly 17 years after his brother’s diagnosis, Potter hopes to once again find himself by the bedside, this time wearing a white coat. When he was younger, there was little he could do for his brother. Today, he’s hopeful he’ll be able to help those in need and that his experiences at Seattle Children’s will help him as he begins a medical journey of his own.
My introduction to medicine was one rooted in fear. Over the course of two weeks, I had developed a routine: Sit in the waiting room collecting my courage, wash my hands, get cleared by the nurse to walk into the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), get up on the step stool to talk to my unconscious brother for five minutes while looking as little as possible at the giant food processor like machine whirring with his blood. I felt helpless, but there was little more I could do to support my younger brother.
It took three months before my brother was released from the hospital with a diagnosis of Leigh’s Syndrome. Doctors, during that time, were the bearers of bad news. Each day was one more opportunity to be told things had gotten even worse. My guard was constantly up, even as my parents told me the good news he was moving to the rehabilitation floor.
As I have started my own journey into medicine, I have been asked if witnessing my brother in the PICU was traumatic for me. The experience did leave me with a lingering discomfort around hospitals through the greater part of my childhood, but I can’t say that I was ever traumatized. That was at least in part mitigated by the nurses and doctors I encountered throughout my brother’s journey. Their compassion and willingness to explain every step of my brother’s care, not just to my parents but to my younger self, helped to turn the alien world of medicine into something comprehensible.
I knew for certain I was ready to start my own journey to become a physician when I decided to shadow providers at Seattle Children’s in the PICU for a week. There, I was confronted with the machine my brother was hooked up to; but now instead of a giant machine it was small and I knew it simply as ECMO, helping a young girl recover from a devastating illness. As an observer, I still felt a little sense of helplessness. The difference was I knew that in time and with enough hard work I could be the one jumping in to help; making an impact just like the doctors that had treated my brother.
I want to be a doctor because I have seen them in action, bringing my brother back from what should have been an early death. I understand the patient and family perspective, both when it comes to the day to day living as well as the acute medical emergency. I understand the impact a life-long illness has on a child. Most importantly, I understand that when you’re a doctor you’re treating a family as much as you’re treating the patient.
When I first followed my family into Seattle Children’s for my brother, I somehow ended up in the care of his doctors and nurses too. I hope, someday, I can return the favor to another young sibling of a sick child, maybe even here at Seattle Children’s.
Potter and his family are supporters of Seattle Children’s Mitochondrial Research Guild. They raise awareness for mitochondrial disease and hope to one day find a cure. Today, Forrest’s brother Bryson is 19 years old and although his long-term prognosis is unclear, their family is hopeful for his future. Learn more about how guilds support Seattle Children’s.