“He hates it when the babies cry.”

I had the privilege of meeting the head of Cardiovascular Surgery at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital yesterday. He asked me for to give money to support the hospital, and I did. Here’s how it happened.

Dr. Christopher Knott-Craig was part of a tour I took with a group of friends and donors, an add-on to the main event, which was a look at the amazing art throughout the hospital and the difference it makes for patients and their families. (Why can’t every hospital be as friendly and patient-centered as LeBonheur? Don’t adults want a toy as a reward for surgery, too?)

Dr. Knott-Craig is a huge deal: The renowned head of the hospital’s cardiovascular service, he operates on babies with heart defects from around the country, doing procedures on tiny patients that other hospitals won’t touch. How tiny? Newborn babies’ hearts are the size of a walnut.

The doctor met us in the hallway outside the cardiovascular ICU, and as soon as he began talking, I was captivated.

He began not with surgical technique or survival rates. Instead, he talked about how “every day is Valentine’s Day” in his part of the world. He cares about all the senses of his baby patients – their hearing, the touches they get, the fact that their moms get to stay with them as much as possible. Babies need all of their senses to heal best, he said.

“He hates it when the babies cry,” said one hospital staffer as an aside to our group. Yes, the doctor said, if the babies are crying they are in pain, and I don’t want them ever to be in pain.

He eagerly invited us to meet his tiny charges, and look past the bank of monitors and scary signs (“Watch out. My sternum is still open,” said one). He gently touched the babies’ hands, and explained the defect that the surgery was meant to fix. The nurses looked nervous to have so many germy visitors in their patients’ rooms, but the doctor didn’t seem worried. What he cares about – and he said it several times – is the life that his patients will grow up to live, thanks to the life-saving surgery they get at LeBonheur.

At the end of the ICU tour, Dr. Knott-Craig thanked us for visiting, and something amazing happened. He asked us for our support. With money. To do the work we’d seen in action just that day. Invited us to email him with our questions. Hoped we’d come back.

I’ve watched quite a few development calls, and have made many requests for gifts myself. At their best, a conversation about philanthropy makes a strong and clear connection between the organization and the need, and includes a specific, personal, and compelling ask for support.

Dr. Knott-Craig is the best.