Doctor Jessica So’s young son has a unique interest: surgery. He loves watching videos of surgeries on YouTube, and learning about the human body. For this reason, the creative mom gave him the best surprise on his fourth birthday: they performed a c-section together using play-doh.
Learning with a Play-Doh C-Section
Jessica So is a board-certified dermatologist living in California. Her son, who is only a toddler, loves learning about the human body and is endlessly interested in the work of surgeons. She suspects that some of that curiosity comes from him being interested in her own work, and what she does when she’s away all day.
“While we do talk about the different medical problems I treat, most of these conversations occur as part of a larger ongoing discussion about the calling of a physician—the joys, sorrows, and sacred honour of being entrusted to care for others,” she explained.
When he was just three years old, her son started talking about how excited he was to be a surgeon. After So explained to him the lengthy process it takes to get there, however, he became frustrated. He wanted to be a surgeon right here and right now.
So what did the crafty mom do? She grabbed some play-doh and built them into body parts so that she and her son could perform surgery. Their first case was an open gallbladder removal. Her son loved it so much that they re-did the surgery six times.
Since then, they’ve done several other procedures, including a hernia repair, a whipple procedure, a nail matrix biopsy, a thyroidectomy, and now, a c-section.
So always makes sure she prepares thoroughly before doing play-doh surgery with her son.
“I have pulled out old textbooks from medical school, messaged many colleagues for opinions on case scenarios and surgical approaches, and researched literature about specialties outside of my own,” she said.
She always explains their “patient’s” medical condition to her son at the beginning of each surgery and walks him through the procedure before operating. On some occasions, they’ll watch a YouTube video of the surgery first, or she’ll draw out a sketch.
So says that at that point, he often has many questions, but they often don’t have to do with the procedure itself. Instead, her son asks a lot of questions about pain, patient comfort, risks, and long-term consequences of the surgery.
The four-year-old’s favorite surgeries to perform are orthopedic procedures.
“As a four-year old, he loves slinging a hammer and working with drills,” says So.
The Birthday C-Section
For her son’s fourth birthday, So constructed the torso of a pregnant woman so her son could perform a c-section. Over four million viewers watched on Twitter as the toddler performed the surgery with life-like precision, and delivered a Spiderman toy followed by a balloon placenta.
Throughout the process you can hear So’s voice as she walked him through the procedure, pointing out the various body parts and explaining exactly what they are doing. Her son’s precision and apparent level of understanding is remarkable.
“I feel that children are able to understand much more than we give them credit for,” she said. “And you really don’t find out until you try.”
The Benefits of Play-Doh C-Section Surgery
Throughout their surgeries, So has watched her son develop many important skills. She says that his fine motor-skills have improved, as well as his self-control and problem solving, So also says he’s developed a deeper respect for his own body and for others’.
“For example, when we had a talk about caution for the neck during horseplay with his younger sister, we reviewed the critical structures in the neck then did a few neck surgeries for him to see the major vessels and trachea and understand their function,” she explained.
For So, the best part about the play-doh surgeries is spending time with her son. He always has so many questions about how the human body works, so this is a really fun way for them to connect.
“Every day he asks if we can do a Play-Doh surgery.”
Each time they do a procedure, So posts a video to her Twitter account with the hashtag #playdoughsurgeries. Since then, the pair have gained a substantial following of supporters. So often receives many messages of thanks for sharing these videos with her son.
Adults have sent her messages saying they’ve used the videos to start a discussion with their families about a surgery. This has helped them to alleviate some anxiety and fear surrounding an upcoming procedure.
“My favourite are those from parents and educators of children with similar interests in the human body, who have been inspired at an early age to pursue a career in medicine, or to work even harder in their studies to reach their goals,” she says.
That being said, not everyone is as supportive. Some viewers did not like the Play-Doh c-section video, with one Twitter user calling it “plain unnecessary and quite frankly a little disturbing”.
Of course, a few negative comments aren’t going to stop this mother-son duo. So says she will continue nurturing her son’s curiosity and passion.
“I promised my son I’d keep doing them for as long as he wanted me too,”.