Matthew Makela is a kindhearted 3-year-old who tucks in 20 stuffed animals each night at bedtime and gives his younger sister, Emily, a kiss, hug and farewell message of "Bye, little girl" each day at day care drop-off.
This sweet boy's loving heart had a rough start, though. Matthew underwent his first heart surgery when he was just 7 days old. He had a second cardiac surgery at 5½ months. That surgery was followed by another a year later. At 2, he underwent a cardiac catheterization procedure to place a stent in his heart. In the future, Matthew eventually will need pulmonary valve replacement surgery, too.
All of this medical intervention is a result of a rare condition known as tetralogy of Fallot — a combination of four congenital heart defects. These abnormalities affect the structure of the heart and cause oxygen-poor blood to flow out of the heart to the rest of the body.
In addition to his cardiac procedures, Matthew also underwent a thumb reconstruction surgery when he was 14 months old for an unrelated condition called congenital clasped thumb. And if that weren't enough, he has an abnormal heart rhythm, asthma and left-sided hearing loss. He wears a hearing aid, too.
Despite all his medical concerns, however, Matthew is a happy child who loves animals and playing outside.
Matthew and his parents, LeAnn and Josh Makela, go in for follow-up appointments with his pediatric cardiologist every six months, hoping for a reprieve from medical procedures. In December 2018, they received good news when Matthew's echocardiogram results showed, for the first time, that no new intervention was needed.
"He's doing really well. He runs around like crazy, and I can't say how thankful we are," LeAnn says. "I feel like he's starting to turn a corner now."
"They don't sweat the small stuff because they've been through big stuff. I think that lets them appreciate what's important in life."Karen Myhre, M.D.
Karen Myhre, M.D., Matthew's pediatrician at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, has known Matthew since birth. "He's very shy but adorable and loving," she says. "You have to kind of earn his trust. But once you do, it's worth a million bucks."
Dr. Myhre admires how Matthew and his family have weathered all the ups and downs of the young boy's medical situation with grace. "That little guy has been through a lot," Dr. Myhre says. "Matthew and his family roll with the punches so well. They enjoy every day for what it is. They don't sweat the small stuff because they've been through big stuff. I think that lets them appreciate what's important in life."
Of all Matthew's ailments, congenital heart disease is his most serious issue. But Dr. Myhre sees his prognosis as good. "I think he's going to do really well long term," she says.
"Kids are pretty resilient, but they're also a product of their environment," Dr. Myhre adds. "I can't emphasize enough how supportive and knowledgeable his parents are about Matthew and his medical conditions. He's done so well because he's got a wonderful family on his team."
"The level of care from our entire team has been absolutely phenomenal."LeAnn Makela
The Makelas, in turn, are thankful for all the members of Matthew's care team, beginning with the ultrasound technician and obstetrician who recognized an abnormality in LeAnn's 20-week ultrasound and set their future course of medical care in motion.
"Not every kid's congenital heart disease is caught at a 20-week ultrasound," LeAnn says, noting how, in response, Matthew was born at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, so he could receive the specialty care he needed immediately. "I'm just so grateful that the team in Eau Claire was able to get us to the right place at the right time. The level of care from our entire team has been absolutely phenomenal."
Watch Matthew take a trip around the bases when, in July, he was celebrated as a Mayo Clinic Health System Home Run for Life honoree:
Note: A version of this story previously was published in Hometown Health.