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When Jamil faced a new parent's worst nightmare, a doctor taught him how to be a dad

Jamil Zaki and his daughter, Alma, today.
Jamil Zaki
Jamil Zaki and his daughter, Alma, today.

When times are stressful, it can help to pause and think about the people who have helped in moments of need.

Jamil Zaki of San Francisco met his unsung hero more than six years ago, shortly after the birth of his daughter Alma. Alma was struggling to live, and Zaki and his wife were trying to hold it together.

"I don't know how to describe that experience of seeing her for the first time and realizing that she might not make it," he said. "I would say that as a parent, the first thing I realized... was that I wanted more than anything in the world to protect her."

Alma spent several weeks in the intensive care unit. One day while she was there, a doctor told Zaki that Alma had had a stroke when she was born.

Zaki and his wife would have to give Alma painful injections twice a day for the foreseeable future.

"It was about one in the morning when we found this out, and the doctor who told me this clearly was exhausted himself," Zaki said. "And instead of just delivering the news compassionately and leaving, he just pulled up a chair. And we talked, I'd say for about 90 minutes or so."

The doctor talked with him about Alma, and also shared his own experiences as a parent.

"That interaction changed the trajectory of this difficult time," Zaki said. "That night, in that conversation, somehow made me feel like no matter what we were going through, for me, what I was experiencing was fatherhood. And that fatherhood will always have ups and downs, and that the only thing we can do is roll with them and be there for our children, as best we can."

Today, Alma is doing well, but Zaki says his memories of those difficult first weeks of parenthood, and the kind doctor who helped him through, have remained with him.

"It was as though he hit the pause button on this torrent of pain and anguish that we were feeling," he said.

To share the story of your unsung hero with the Hidden Brain team, record a voice memo on your phone and send it to myunsunghero@hiddenbrain.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.