This man is not the actor who played Harold O'Malley, whose name is George Dzundza (pictured, with T.R. Knight). It is the father of Krista Vernoff, executive producer of Grey's Anatomy and one of its principal writers. In writing the two-part "Six Days" story line, Vernoff drew upon her own experience with her dad's short, losing battle with esophageal cancer.
Bob Verne's story is told through Harold O'Malley, and Krista's grief is shown, in part, through George. Here's what Vernoff has to say about it on her official blog about the episode:
The card at the end [of "Six Days"] was a tribute to my father. He died six years ago at the age of 56 after a very short battle with esophageal cancer. He called me one day at my office at Charmed and told me he thought he had the flu. A week after that he had surgery on a massive tumor at the base of his esophagus.
Before the surgery he was laughing and celebrating with family. He had a profoundly positive attitude. After the surgery, he had a massive scar down his belly and was intubated and pale, and upon seeing him, I, who thought of myself as quite strong and educated and capable of handling that moment, started to shake and then hyperventilate and had to be helped out of the room.During the week we waited for him to recover, we learned that kidney function was of the utmost importance and I became obsessed, absolutely obsessed with his urine output. I checked that urine bag like 50 times a day.
At one point, the doctors gathered the family to tell us that my Dad had a kink in his breathing tube and that they might not be able to get a new one in. They told us we needed to prepare ourselves for the possibility that this was it. We stood out in the hallway and waited, holding our breath, terrified.
There was another family there in the hallway, the family of a 16 year old boy who'd been shot on the street on his way home from work in what was feared to be gang related violence, though his family insisted that he was a good kid, that he wasn't in any gang.
They were as scared as we were as they waited for news of condition. We talked to them for awhile, made small talk, then fell silent. And after a long, pregnant pause, one of the teenagers of the family looked over at a member of my family with a very disturbed look on his face. And then he said "Dang. Somebody just farted. And I think it's this old white guy right here." My family laughed harder than we have ever laughed in our lives. And my dad lived through the reintubation.
He lived for three more days.
When the surgeon sat us down to tell us that it was time to let him go, he explained that Dad had come to him â€" behind our backs â€" on his way into the OR actually â€" and begged him to proceed with the tumor removal no matter what. My Dad believed, truly believed, that he could fight that caner, that he could live, if only they would remove the tumor.
The surgeon did as he wished. And I have yet to completely forgive that surgeon for that decision. Because my dad's body was riddled with cancer. Plus he had a liver condition and a heart condition. There was pretty much no way for him to recover from a surgery that traumatic. And the surgeon knew that. I believe in forgiveness, I do. I'm a fervent and avid believer that resentment, unchecked, leads to illness and spiritual misery. But I also believe that that surgeon cut my dad in half because he wanted the practice. It wasn't the right call.
He knew better. My Dad didn't. The scene in which George yells at Bailey and Richard - that scene didn't happen in my life. Writing and shooting that scene was wish fulfillment for me. What happened in my life is, we went into my Dad's ICU and put our hands on his body and sang him Beatles songs while the nurses turned off the machines.
When they pulled the intubation tubes from his mouth, my sister and I put our faces to his mouth so we could feel the last of his breath. And then he died. And I became a member of the Dead Dad's club.