Matthew Makela of Eau Claire is a kindhearted 4-year-old who tucks in 20 stuffed animals nightly and gives his younger sister, Emily Makela, a kiss, hug and farewell message of “Bye, little girl” at day care drop-off daily. He also loves animals and playing outside.
Matthew underwent his first cardiac surgery at one week old. He had another heart surgery at 5.5 months old. That surgery was followed by another a year later. At two, he underwent a cardiac catheterization lab procedure to place a stent in his heart. In the future, he’ll inevitably need pulmonary valve replacement surgery, too. But doctors are monitoring his progression and have yet to determine when that will be.
Matthew has 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 and 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 he has an abnormal heart rhythm, asthma and left-sided hearing loss that requires a hearing aid.
Matthew and his parents, LeAnn and Josh Makela, anxiously return for follow-up appointments with their cardiologist every six months, hoping for a temporary reprieve from medical procedures. They also hope that Matthew’s latest echocardiogram results will suggest, at long last, no new intervention is needed. That happened for the first time in December.
“He’s doing really well. He runs around like crazy, and I can’t say how thankful we are,” LeAnn Makela says. “I feel like he’s starting to turn a corner now.”
Matthew turned three corners July 26 as he rounded the bases during his “Home Run for Life” at the Eau Claire Express game. The event honored him and his Mayo Clinic Health System care team.
Karen Myhre, M.D., the Mayo Clinic Health System pediatrician for Matthew and Emily, says Matthew and his family deserve the recognition.
“That little guy has been through a lot,” Dr. Myhre says, noting that pediatric patients are generally healthy, but Matthew has seen the gamut of doctors and specialists, both in Eau Claire and at Mayo Clinic’s Rochester, Minnesota, campus. “Matthew and his family roll with the punches so well. They enjoy every day for what it is. And 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.”
Dr. Myhre has known Matthew since birth. She describes him as “very shy but adorable and loving.”
“You have to kind of earn his trust, but once you do, it’s worth a million bucks,” she says.
An encouraging prognosis
Of all Matthew’s ailments, his 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,” she 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 Makelas, in turn, are thankful for their entire care team, beginning with their ultrasound technician and OB-GYN, who recognized an abnormality in LeAnn Makela’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 Makela says, noting how, in response, Matthew was born in Rochester. “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.”