From the second he enters the exam room, Dr. Paul Haut fills the room with his playful personality. Knowing that 14-year-old Logan Taylor of St. Paul, Ind., loves McDonald's cheeseburgers but hates the chicken nuggets, this Riley physician hops onto the examination table next to the teenager and says, "Hey, Logan, let's go get some chicken nuggets!"
Dr. Haut believes a doctor's visit is a visit. He shuns the usual white lab coat, preferring to let show his Indianapolis 500 lanyard peppered with buttons of all sizes and colors.
Dr. Haut's demeanor belies his expertise. As director of Indiana's only pediatric stem cell transplant unit, his reputation draws parents from all over the state, bringing their critically ill children to Riley.
Last hope for cancer patients
A stem cell transplant is often the last resort for seriously ill cancer patients. These are not the embryonic stem cells we hear about in the media. These blood-forming stem cells are found in blood, bone marrow and umbilical cords. If a patient's own stem cells can't be used, a donor must be found.
Once a transplant is successful, the patient returns to Dr. Haut for checkups, which can include drawing a sample of the child's bone marrow.
That's when Dr. Haut's personality really shines. Logan dreads the procedure but not the visit. He enjoys the teasing he gets from Dr. Haut about his favorite topics, McDonald's and NASCAR.
"I wouldn't take Logan anywhere else," said Logan's mom as she watches the playful interaction. "Riley is awesome."
At the end of the day, Dr. Haut can be emotionally weary. But his heart is drawn to his patients.
"Children who are dealing with such serious illnesses have a unique quality that isn't mirrored in other patients," he said. "Watching how the family and child bond together to deal with a disease brings me to work every day."
"It's very rewarding to watch dignity in action."
Picture above provided by Rocky Rothrock, photographer, Office of Visual Media, Indiana Univ. School of Medicine