Matthew: “They make you feel like part of the family”
Open-heart surgery on a newborn baby? At U-M’s famed Michigan Congenital Heart Center, one of the world’s top centers for children’s heart care, it’s not out of the ordinary.
But for Matthew and his family, it was a startling way to begin a little boy’s life. And now, five years later, he’s alive — and full of mischief — because of it.
The day after he was born, Matthew began to turn blue. Suspecting a serious heart problem, the doctors called the U-M’s Survival Flight helicopter service to fly him to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Shortly after his arrival, he was diagnosed with a severe case of a condition called aortic stenosis. His blood could barely get out of his heart and into his body, because the opening between his heart and largest blood vessel was far too small. The tiny flaps of muscle in his aortic valve, which guards that opening, were too stiff to move.
Six of every 1,000 babies are born with some sort of aortic stenosis, but Matthew’s case was especially bad. His body was starving for oxygen. Without treatment, his heart and organs would fail and he’d almost certainly die within days.
The first step in saving Matthew’s life: An angioplasty, performed when he was just two days old. Then, when he was fifteen days old, Matthew had open-heart surgery to remove his defective aortic valve and replaced it with a healthy valve taken from another part of his heart. That valve, in turn, was replaced with one from a donor.
Because the donor valve can’t grow, Matthew had another operation the summer he turned three, and faces more until he is fully grown. But otherwise, he’ll lead a normal life.
Matthew’s mom, Cathy, says the entire team not only takes great care of kids, but also takes great care of parents. “They make you feel like part of the family,” she explains.
Today, Matthew wears his surgery scar like a badge of honor — including during his starring role as the “boy in the bathtub” in Michigan Difference advertisements for U-M.