This is the TV poster for "The Surgeon's Cut," streaming on Netflix. CNS photo/Netflix
This is the TV poster for "The Surgeon's Cut," streaming on Netflix. CNS photo/Netflix
NEW YORK – Fascinating, edifying and life-affirming, "The Surgeon's Cut" is streaming on Netflix. BBC Studios produced the docuseries, which airs in four one-hour segments.

Each episode was helmed by a different director and each highlights the work of an exceptional physician: fetal surgeon Kypros Nicolaides, neurosurgeon Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, organ transplant specialist Nancy Ascher and cardiologist Devi Shetty.

Besides the graphic images of surgery that make it unsuitable for the squeamish, the show deals with such mature themes as poverty, racism, immigration and health inequities. It also contains expressions of misogyny and fleeting crude language. Unsuitable for youngsters, who are unlikely to be interested anyway, it's acceptable for older teens as well as grown-ups. 

"People have a fantasy that surgeons are aloof and disconnected from their patients," Ascher says. The program succeeds in dispelling that myth. And it immerses viewers in its subjects' life-or-death cases. But it's their reflections on their work and especially their backstories that make the series distinctive.

Along with their common profession, the doctors' narratives share another thread, one that believers will find heartening. The destinies of these outstanding people of science, "The Surgeon’s Cut" reveals, were significantly influenced by religious faith.

Growing up in Detroit in the 1950s and 1960s, Ascher – the first woman in the United States to perform a liver transplant – thought of becoming a nun. There was just one small hitch: She was raised Jewish. Yet becoming a sister was to her, she says, "a way of being devoted to something."

As for London-based Cypriot Nicolaides, he is seen at prayer in a Greek Orthodox Church. In addition to his daily work trying to save lives "in situations where the baby would otherwise die," there's another element in the 67-year-old's life that inspires his piety: a diagnosis of blood cancer that caught him off guard.

Until receiving it, the King's College Hospital professor says, "Somehow, I had the impression I was immortal."

Indian heart surgeon Shetty recalls that in the 1990s when he was stationed in Kolkata – a poor city teeming with more than 14 million souls – it was not his practice to make house calls. But while working at the city's B.M. Birla Heart Research Center, Shetty received a request to do so that changed his life.

The patient was Mother Teresa, and for the last four years of her earthly life, Shetty was the future saint's doctor. "She was different," he says, and had "the presence of the divine."

The special bond they developed, the surgeon continues, "completely changed my approach to my profession, my family and society." It led him, moreover, to rededicate himself to ensuring that "everyone on this planet has access to life-saving surgeries."

Growing up in the 1970s and 1980s in Mexicali, a poor town near Mexico's border with California, Quinones-Hinojosa's Catholicism was central to his identity – as were his indigenous community's "Day of the Dead" rituals. This combination opened the boy up to the possibilities of "magic, miracles and the unknown."

The 52-year-old chair of neurosurgery at Jacksonville's Mayo Clinic Florida remembers that, as a boy, he "didn't even know what a brain surgeon was." Of the quartet, his tale is arguably the most inspirational.

Quinones-Hinojosa acknowledges jumping the fence separating his homeland from the United States multiple times and seeking employment as a migrant worker without legal papers. He eventually graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1999. "I went from harvest to Harvard in less than seven years," he observes.

Viewers will be astonished at the intricate and dangerous operations Quinones-Hinojosa and the others perform. "Surgery is an art," Shetty says. "If it looks beautiful, it always works."

Yet their sense of what's at stake inspires both profound humility in these doctors and a fervent desire to get it right. "Patients die once, but we die 100 times," Shetty reflects.

Spiritual in the broadest sense, "The Surgeon's Cut" is inspirational programming that should not be missed.

Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.