This Teacher Was At School When A Brain Surgeon Rang – And It Was A Call That Changed His Life

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Albert Siedlecki was at work at Medford Township Memorial Middle School when the school office informed him that he had an urgent phone call. The science teacher soon discovered that the man on the other end of the line was a prominent neurosurgeon. And what happened next made him cry.

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Siedlecki had been teaching science to children for nearly 40 years, most of which he’d spent at the same New Jersey middle school. There he was nicknamed “Mr. Sie” and earned a reputation as a well-liked teacher. But Siedlecki never expected that one fateful phone call would change his world forever.

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Dr. Lee Buono was a student at Medford Township in the 1980s. After a day of lessons in eighth grade, he remained at school to remove a frog’s brain and spinal cord under the supervision of his science teacher. Subsequently, Siedlecki was surprised by what a fantastic job he did – and told Buono that it had been the best dissection he had witnessed in his lifetime.

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When he grew up, Buono started working as a brain surgeon. One day, he was visited by a judge who had a benign tumor that was affecting his speech. So Buono needed to do an awake craniotomy, meaning that he had to operate on his patient while he was awake.

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“He can get some words out, but it’s almost unintelligible,” Buono recalled to NPR’s StoryCorps in 2011. “It’s almost like someone’s sewing your mouth closed.” Fortunately, the delicate surgery was successful, and the patient was overjoyed when his speech returned.

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Buono said the judge had been “excited and happy and crying.” His wife had previously asked the doctor who had inspired him to become a neurosurgeon to begin with, and the patient told him to give that person a call. Consequently, Buono dutifully did just that.

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The doctor revealed that his old middle school science teacher had been the one who had set him on this path by telling him he had the potential to become a surgeon. “You make sure you call that teacher,” the judge told him. “You make sure you thank him.”

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Image: Facebook/Albert Joseph Siedlecki

Buono telephoned his former school and asked to talk to Siedlecki immediately. “The school secretary told me it was a doctor from the Dallas/Fort Worth area who wanted to speak to me right away,” Siedlecki said. And the teacher couldn’t believe it when he picked up the phone.

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When Siedlecki heard who it was, he remembered his former pupil right away. But he was shocked to discover that the surgeon was calling to thank him years after they last saw each other. “I was flabbergasted,” Siedlecki admitted. “I said, ‘Of all the people in your entire career, you want to thank me?’”

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The teacher divulged that Buono’s gesture had meant a great deal to him, and he had been overwhelmed with pride. “It was the same feeling I had when my kids were born,” he said. “I started to cry. It made me feel really important that I had that influence on you.”

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After their emotional phone call, the pair reunited in the classroom once again. And this time, Siedlecki was the one who had a surprise for Buono. He had preserved the frog brain and spinal cord Buono had dissected as a child and presented it to him along with a commemorative plaque.

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Buono informed Siedlecki’s class that his “unbelievable teacher” had been the one who had first awoken his interest in science. That day back in eighth grade, Siedlecki had told Buono that he “could be a brain surgeon.” And the young boy believed him.

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“That is a very important thing, especially when you’re 13 years old,” Buono explained. “It was telling a kid like a father would say to a son, ‘You can be anything you want in life.’” He added, “It just so happens after that I really realized I wanted to be a brain surgeon, so I did it. Had he not said that, maybe it wouldn’t have happened.”

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The much-loved science teacher became emotional as he described how that one conversation had altered his perspective on his career and had made him realize he could motivate pupils to chase after their dreams. “It changed the way I looked at every student from that phone call on,” he said. “It was a life-changing phone call.”

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The pair’s sweet story was shared on YouTube by the New Jersey Education Association, and some of Siedlecki’s pupils commented to say that he was their “favorite teacher.” Another YouTube user wrote, “I had Mr. Sie when I was in 8th grade and I LOVED him! He always told me that I am going to save the world someday, and all I can say is that I’m working on it.”

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But it seems that Buono has also touched the lives of others. Ray Nelson commented on the video to reveal that the surgeon had placed a shunt in his brain after a hemorrhagic stroke. “One day I am going to go see Dr. Buono and thank him in person,” the former patient wrote. “Until then, Dr. Buono, I thank GOD for you and your work!”

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Buono described Mr. Sie as an “educator” who always went above and beyond his duties as a teacher. “He wasn’t just coming to work to make a paycheck. He was coming to work to do his life’s work,” he said in the video released by NJEA.

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After that, the teacher and his former student caught up in Siedlecki’s classroom in 2008. Then in 2011 Mr. Sie was invited to the White House as part of The National Teachers Initiative. The program documents the inspiring efforts of those in the teaching industry.

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Buono and Siedlecki got together once again to tell their moving tale for the initiative. Nowadays, the doctor operates in Pennington, New Jersey as a noted surgeon who specializes in neurological and spine procedures. Siedlecki retired from teaching in 2014 and currently lives in Ashburn, Virginia.

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Image: Facebook/Albert Joseph Siedlecki

Mr. Sie revealed the whole experience has made him appreciate that teaching “is a gift.” He used to be nervous to confess his profession, but that all changed when he got Buono’s phone call. Consequently, Siedlecki said, “I’m a teacher, and I’m going to help as many people as I can to find their passion too.”

 

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