Sixteen Candles

In 1997, Lisa June gave birth to Matthew, a healthy baby boy, or so she thought. Just 32 hours later, she was told to say her last goodbyes to a son who was barely a day old.

The doctors, unable to identify what was wrong, could not offer a treatment option to save him.

“It was a total shock, but instead of saying goodbye, I decided to pray,” said June, a resident of Long Island.

Her prayers were answered when doctors informed her just 24 hours later that they were able to pinpoint the problem. They discovered that Matthew had a congenital heart defect known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, leaving the left side of his heart completely undeveloped.

“I was offered three treatment options: comfort care, three-staged surgery, or a heart transplant,” said June. “I decided right away that comfort care was not an option, and since I wanted to leave the heart transplant as a last resort, I went with the three-stage surgery.”

The doctors gave her options for a surgeon, among them was Dr. Jan M. Quaegebeur, M.D., Ph.D., Morris & Rose Milstein Professor of Surgery at Columbia University Medical Center, known to most as Dr. Q.

“The decision was made the moment Dr. Q gave us a 75 percent survival rate,” she said. “After the first successful surgery, we wouldn’t let anyone else operate on him but Dr. Q.”

In the end, all three surgeries from 9 months old to 4 years old proved successful and resulted in quick recoveries. Matthew is now 16 years old and, like most boys his age, enjoys playing sports, especially baseball.

“Dr. Q is our angel,” June said. “His hands work miracles.”

It is something she is determined to never forget, which is why on every birthday Matthew has had for the past 16 years, June has called Dr. Q’s office just to say two words, “Thank you.”

“I will continue to call every year,” she said. “Because if it wasn’t for him, Matthew wouldn’t be here today.”

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