A human surgeon called Rene Leriche once said that “every surgeon carries within himself a small cemetery, where from time to time he goes to pray” and I believe this is the most accurate and profound statement ever made about my profession. I remember every single one of my failures and very few of my successes. I leave my ego at the door every time I go into theatre because I know from bitter experience that biology will always humble you and that you are only as good as your last operation.

There is no surgeon on planet earth that hasn’t failed. You cannot be a surgeon without failure permeating your existence and haunting your nightmares. This is true whether you concentrate on well-established procedures or newly developed procedures. Sure, with experience, one would hope to get better, and certainly, you cannot learn success or failure from a book – but once you pick up a scalpel blade, failure is an integral part of your life.

I set out to make this TV program because I wanted to make a difference – I wanted to bring hope and love to the world by explaining that the journey of one animal and one person that loves that animal is the universal journey of all of us – and I believe that sharing that journey shows us the best of ourselves – the love of an animal makes us the very best we can be. The journey of the one is in fact the journey of everyone. We are all in it together.

It is easy to show success, and to some extent, it makes for easier compliance with broadcasting rules because there is no fall-out, but that is not real life – real life is a mixture of both success and failure. In this week’s episode, my team and I did our best, but we still failed and we lost a dear friend. Our loss profoundly affected us – but it was a drop in the ocean of the pain of Bella’s beautiful, compassionate and magnificent family. This family were brave enough to allow us to show their journey and I am deeply grateful that they have shared their emotions and their loss with us – because in knowing that we had all done our best, there is peace of mind. In knowing that peace, we might bring hope to millions of animals and human beings who recognise that without hope we are lost, unless we make tough decisions and unless we live with the consequences, we will never make progress and we will never make a real difference to medicine and to society. Unless we have felt pain and loss, we will never really know the true feeling of love and redemption.

Tonight was the most difficult episode I have ever made of The Supervet and I have been honoured to meet Bella and her wonderful family. I can do the same operation on two consecutive days and on one day I will succeed and on another I will fail, having done my very best on both days. This is true whether I’m doing a procedure for the hundredth time or the first time. I do think that people have to realise this and understand that we are a team of people who care desperately and selflessly about every patient entrusted to our care – but we can only do our best, and sometimes that isn’t enough because biology does not smile that day. These are difficult ethical decisions, but in making them, we genuinely do seek to make the world a better place for the animals that give us so much.

I try really hard not to take either praise or criticism to heart because neither helps my next surgery, but it’s really really hard for myself and for all of my team to fail, in spite of our best efforts and our best intentions. We do take it very personally and it weighs heavily upon us. I have no doubt that there will be people who criticise or who question what we do in the name of love for the animals, but I would ask each and everyone to put themselves in the position of the family and in the place of my team as we work through the difficult decisions and always try to do the right thing for our animal friends. You can’t know until you are in that situation. All current technology was once-upon-a-time new. For every advance made there is failure, but the same is true if we just stay the way we are and choose never to strive to do better; we fail either way. In fact, I believe we have to ask if we do more harm by not taking action to improve if a procedure or treatment is suboptimal than we do by carefully planning a more optimal solution. Is it better to fail by not trying or to fail by reaching for the stars?

Change is inevitable – but progress is a conscious choice and a choice where moral integrity and faith in the future of medicine for the good of the patient is required. Bella had already had multiple failed surgeries before we saw her, and that team too had been working with the very best of intentions. Otherwise, we would all give up and say, “there is nothing we can do.” We would just put every animal with serious disease or trauma to sleep because we wouldn’t try. It is no longer true to say that nothing can be done in lots of cases and we are on the brink of a revolution in regenerative surgery to rebuild body parts, as we have tried to do for Bella.

Bella’s legacy far transcends a stem-cell scaffold that can and will rebuild bones, heralding a new generation of hope for man and animal; her legacy is hope, redemption and peace.  Every success, no matter how small, big, old or new, stands on the shoulders of previous failure and frustration. In the future, we shall look back on all of the advances of now and consider them the norm; in fact we shall wonder why we ever felt otherwise. If we do not have faith and hope and move onward for the good of the patient and the greater good of all living creatures, both human and animal, we may as well hang up our surgery gown and hang our heads down over the missed opportunity to make a real difference.

As this programme went out, I was in theatre performing another new operation, in which I have failed before. My team and I hope with all our hearts that biology will smile on this patient and that we will save a limb and a life. Whatever the outcome, we know that we will always do the right thing at any particular moment in time. Surgery is a choice, and often the alternatives are not good, but if we make that choice, we must pull together as honest human beings with integrity of purpose and support each other on good days and in bad. It is this community of compassion that you are part of as you watched the show this week.

Thank you so much for caring so much. We stand side by side with Bella’s family, shoulder to shoulder, in solidarity of sympathy and in the peace of knowing we did our best and that it was the right thing to do. Our journey together raises up our hearts and makes us the very best humans we can be through our love of animals. This love puts the human in humanity. This faith, this hope, these arms around each other in our times of hardship, is a beacon of light in a world that right now badly needs it. We stand together with the animals in unconditional love and we hold every hand and every paw as we cry our eyes out together and in so doing we really do make the world a better place. Thank you for being on this journey with us. You and the animal you love are the reason I keep going.