Miami-Dade County

Heartwarming reunion: Cardiac patients thank their doctors at Miami Children’s Hospital

Sixteen-year-old Dylan Knauer gets a kiss on the cheek, from his mom, Dianna Sherrill as the two take fun photos in a photo booth during the Miami Children's Hospital reunion party for cardiac patients and their heart doctors Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. Dr. Redmond Burke performed a very rare heart surgery on Dylan when he was just one-year-old. The PA Sling surgery that was performed has only been done 8 times ever in the world. Dylan came back to the hospital to meet Dr. Burke for the first time since the surgery 15 years ago.
Sixteen-year-old Dylan Knauer gets a kiss on the cheek, from his mom, Dianna Sherrill as the two take fun photos in a photo booth during the Miami Children's Hospital reunion party for cardiac patients and their heart doctors Monday, Feb. 16, 2015. Dr. Redmond Burke performed a very rare heart surgery on Dylan when he was just one-year-old. The PA Sling surgery that was performed has only been done 8 times ever in the world. Dylan came back to the hospital to meet Dr. Burke for the first time since the surgery 15 years ago. Miami Herald Staff

In the first few months of his life, Dylan Knauer kept getting misdiagnosed.

He went through three pediatricians. And as he got older, his breathing problems got worse. But his mother refused to give up.

“By the third pediatrician, they finally listened to a frantic mother that there was something wrong with their child,” she said, “and we discovered the heart defect.”

Dylan had a pulmonary artery sling, a condition that disrupted his breathing. So Dylan and his mother, Dianna Sherrill, went to Dr. Redmond Burke, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Miami Children’s Hospital, 3100 SW 62nd Ave.

Dylan, now 16, hasn’t been back to the hospital since his surgery when he was 11 months old. But on Monday, he got to meet Burke for the first time since he was a baby.

“I get to meet the one person that saved my life,” Dylan said.

Miami Children’s invited past patients in The Heart Program to gather at a carnival-themed event Monday to reunite with their doctors. Hundreds of former heart patients came out with their families to see and thank their doctors during the 20th annual patient and family reunion.

Burke greeted a line of people waiting patiently to talk, snap a photo and show him how well they are doing.

When it was Dylan’s turn to meet Burke, he thanked him and took a picture. And through tears, his mother hugged Burke, the person who had saved her child’s life.

“It’s really important to be your child’s advocate where their healthcare is concerned,” Sherrill said.

During the event, former patients could play games, enter a raffle and take different stuffed animal giveaways when they weren’t waiting to talk with their doctors and soclializing with other patients.

But the day wasn’t meant to be only for the patients to thank the doctors.

Dr. Robert Hannan, who also practices at Miami Children’s Hospital, said the event gives the doctors the chance to thank parents for trusting them with their children’s lives.

“It’s really a humbling experience,” he said.

Hannan said watching kids who had congenital heart problems grow up is “wonderful.” And by reuniting with them, the doctors can see how much their work affects families.

Each family brought with them their own success story, their own reason they wanted to thank and commend the doctors. And people got creative with their efforts. Some former patients even wore shirts that said, “I love Dr. Burke.”

Avery Cook, a 7-year-old girl, sported a custom-made shirt with a drawing of a heart.

“It’s anatomically correct,” said Avery’s mother, Jennifer Cook.

Avery had heart surgery when she was 3 1/2. She had an atrial septal defect, which means there was a hole in the wall between the two upper heart chambers of her heart and pulmonic stenosis, which obstructs the flow between the rigth ventricle of the heart to the pulmonary artery.

Cook, who lives in Titusville, said the family took Avery to Miami Children’s after hearing about Burke’s reputation.

“It’s amazing. He’s so wonderful,” she said. “Trust him with your baby’s life and know they’ll be OK.”

Since her surgery, Avery has had “no limitations,” Cook said.

“She did awesome, out of the hospital in four days,” Cook said. “I did not expect that kind of recovery.”

And Burke, who spent the event shaking the hands of former patients, giving hugs to families and taking countless pictures, said the event reminds him of how much is at stake.

“People love their babies with all their hearts,” he said. “It feels like a big family we’ve kind of created.”

Burke said when he first meets these families, it’s the most stressful time of their lives. But once their babies have recovered, they gain a new perspective.

“It completes the circle when they can come,” he said.

And his favorite part of the day, he said, is “little babies hugging me.”

“We hurt all these babies in order to repair them,” he said. “It’s nice to see them smile.”

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