If you live or hang out anywhere around San Francisco, you’ve seen the hearts. Big, beautiful hearts mounted throughout the city, each depicting a different image or pattern, each with a story to tell. Hearts in San Francisco is an annual public art installation started in 2004 by San Francisco General Hospital Foundation. Artists from around the world have painted the hearts, which are sold at an event benefitting the hospital each year. The project has raised more than $15 million for the hospital and its new trauma center.
This year, The Better Lab Founder Dr. Amanda Sammann has contributed a heart, and – all subjectivity aside – it’s super-cool. Yes – this is when you discover that Sammann, a trauma surgeon and Assistant Professor of general surgery at UCSF, has hands not only skilled in the art of saving lives, but in creating uniquely delightful expressions of her experiences.
Sammann started her medical career at San Francisco General in 2008, and it’s fair to say the place has a pretty fierce hold on her heart.
“It was such a powerful experience to go through internship and residency and such a labor of love. I wanted to create something indelible to commemorate the struggle of being a resident and to memorialize the patients we have the privilege of caring for,” she said.
The story of that personal and professional journey comes to life in Sammann’s tender and compelling work: a tabletop heart created from the medical notes she had written and saved for a decade about her patients during her residency, each sheet representing a list of tasks from a night or day on call. She folded each one into a paper flower. Sammann’s heart is a collage of these hand-folded flowers, called “Stem to Stern.” The term is a nickname for a large surgical incision, one often used in transplant surgery when you’re taking organs from donors, which Sammann says is “the ultimate gift.”
“I used to joke that if I ever quit surgery I was going to start a flower shop called ‘Stem to Stern,’” Sammann says. “You know, when the going gets tough. It all came around in this nice, tiny package – all the patient stories, all the blood and tears, to use for a hospital I love.”
The project coincided with Sammann’s return to San Francisco and Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital from Oregon Health & Science University to serve as a first-year attending – and start The Better Lab.
“It was very nostalgic – just coming back, and I had a new baby,” she says. Sammann’s baby was 2-3 weeks old as she worked on the project. Her mom would rock her baby in a rocking chair, the baby would wake up, Sammann would nurse him, and then go back to folding the flowers over white floral wire – each carefully folded note a patient memory, which she placed in a bouquet in a glass vase.
“I actually remembered the patients from some of the notes, and what I was feeling at the time as a resident. The ones who were really sick. The saves. With each of those patients who were really dynamic I learned so much.”
The process, she said, was poetic as she returned to the institution where her career as a physician began.
“I was just thinking how lucky I am to be back here,” Sammann said of that process. “Of all the places I interviewed I wanted to come back here. I don’t think there’s any place like this, at least in the U.S. – the patient population, staff that have been here for decades. It’s truly been like coming home.”
Dr. Amanda Sammann’s Table Top hearts are on display at Macy’s Downtown through February 14. Check them out on the 3rd floor by the Geary Street escalators.
The Hearts and Heroes luncheon takes place Thursday, Feb. 16, on the field of AT&T Park. You can read more and purchase tickets here.