Parker’s Story: It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Dr. Feldstein!

Dr. Neil Feldstein, M.D., F.A.C.S., has plenty of titles. To start, he is Director of Pediatric Neurological Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Dr. Feldstein is also a dedicated teacher, having served as Associate Professor of Neurological Surgery at Columbia for 23 years. There are also the important appellations devoted husband, loving father and master woodworker.

But that is not a complete list. We in the Department of Neurosurgery are delighted to share a new honorific recently bestowed on Dr. Feldstein: Captain America.

To explain, we have to back up a bit and introduce a remarkable patient, Parker Gaglione. Parker is a double major at Lafayette College—in Economics and International Affairs—and the forward for the Lafayette Leopards hockey team. He’s got a great sense of humor, a strongly positive outlook and a warm, loyal heart.

Less than a year ago, Dr. Feldstein performed brain surgery on Parker to remove a tumor. Actually, Dr. Feldstein removed just the right amount of the tumor—which in this case was not the entire mass. He took out only the parts that were interfering with Parker’s life, and as a result he was able to avoid disturbing important brain structures nearby. As of this past spring, Parker reports feeling “totally back to normal.”

Parker’s surgery was so successful, he says, his thinking, concentration, strength and mobility are uncompromised. But he is changed, in that he has a new story to tell, and it’s chock-full of good guys—or as he calls them, superheroes.

These superheroes, says Parker, are the people who supported him through his experience with brain tumor diagnosis and treatment. He feels that his friends and family offered nearly superhuman support from the beginning.

And Parker began to notice that he himself had more strength than he’d expected—a little like the superhero Deadpool, who has healing powers. (For a more in-depth story of Parker’s diagnosis and hospital stay, watch his poignant, inspirational and laugh-out-loud-funny TEDx talk here.)

Parker’s pediatrician had called Dr. Feldstein as soon as the tumor was discovered. Just one hour later, Parker and his family heard from Dr. Feldstein. Says Parker, “This was the first time I spoke to Captain America.” It was a Friday afternoon. Parker and Dr. Feldstein—aka Captain America—would meet on Monday.

Parker remembers that initial meeting clearly. “Dr. Feldstein made me and my family feel like we were in good hands and that he had complete control of the situation. At Columbia, I felt like we were the number one priority.” Parker told his parents he didn’t need to go to any other hospital or talk to any other doctors. He recalls saying, “I trust him with my life.”

Surgery was scheduled. Everyone on the neurosurgery team was “incredibly reassuring,” Parker reflects. “They make you feel like no matter what, you’re going to come out on top.”

As he lay down on the operating table, Parker repeated to himself a mantra of hope and humor: “When I wake up, I’m gonna be Deadpool. When I wake up, I’m gonna be Deadpool.” And what was the first thing he said when he woke up 11 hours later? He asked his parents and Captain America, “Am I Deadpool?” Everyone smiled. They could tell Parker was okay.

“Every day after the surgery,” Parker recalls, “the doctors, nurses and physical therapists made me feel less like a patient and more like a superhero recovering.” Dr. Feldstein checked on him and his parents frequently. He was “making sure I was comfortable and my parents were comfortable. He’s such a personable guy.”

Parker spent just 10 days as an inpatient after surgery and was able to walk out of the hospital on his own. As for Captain America, he can still be found at Columbia, sweeping his cape aside as he sits down to consult with each new patient.