Dylan Dickerson was only 12 hours old when he arrived by helicopter to Miami Children’s Hospital from a hospital in Jupiter over a decade ago.
Diagnosed with Ebstein’s anomaly, a rare defect that affects the tricuspid valve of his heart, Dylan was in “very bad shape,” said his surgeon, Dr. Robert Hannan.
Dylan, weighing 5 pounds, was rushed into surgery four days later on a Saturday afternoon, Hannan recalled. He worked for about six hours reconstructing the valve, then left him attached to the heart and lung machine for another four days.
Fast-forward 12 years. Dylan, who loves video games and dreams of being a comic book writer, is “just a typical boy,” said his mother, Donna Dickerson.
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“They literally gave him life,” said the proud mother, who touts her son’s accomplishments in school and as a Boy Scout. “He does all the things a 12-year-old should be doing and we owe it to them.”
The Dickersons and dozens of other families with similar stories came to Miami Children’s Hospital on Monday for an annual event that reunites patients with the doctors and nurses who cared for them. Always on Presidents’ Day and around Valentine’s Day, the event celebrates life and gives doctors a chance to see the fruits of their labor.
“We look forward to this event probably more than the kids,” said Dr. Anthony Rossi, who heads the cardiac intensive care unit, as he hugged Rebekah Colon, one of his little patients. “This is what it’s all about.”
Rebekah, who at 6 weeks old had surgery to repair three holes in her heart, is now 2 1/2 and full of energy. Her mother, Monica Colon, called the doctors “angels.”
“When you are going through something like that you need that love and support that they give you,” said Colon, of Coconut Creek.
Rebekah, who was born with Down Syndrome, had to be taken by helicopter to Miami Children’s Hospital, 3100 SW 62nd Ave. near Coral Gables, where they operated on her tiny heart. Today, the little girl, who loves Sesame Street and going to church, is “full of joy,” said her dad, Marco Colon.
“It’s really a miracle,” he said.
Rebekah and all the other little miracles danced to the music, snacked on healthy treats and waited to get their faces painted.
Miami Children’s nationally-recognized Heart Program began in 1995 and has seen major growth over the years. In May, the hospital completed more than 4,000 open-heart surgeries. The hospital also treats adults, some of whom were patients as children with congenital heart defects.
Each medical team — which can be as large as 10 people — often deals with high-stress situations in the operating and recovery rooms and looks forward to just having some fun with the kids, Hannan said.
But busy surgeons can’t always enjoy the moment.
Dr. Redmond Burke, who has celebrity status among the patients, was the person many had hoped to see, including Antonella Addeo. The bubbly 7-year-old, who loves One Direction and swimming, was 5 days old when she had open-heart surgery. Her mother, Jamie, said her daughter is old enough now to understand what she went through as a baby and wanted her to meet the doctor who saved her.
“For me the memories are fresh,” she said, as she carried a Sharpie marker hoping to get the doctor’s autograph. Her daughter, who still sports a small scar, was diagnosed with transposition of the great vessels. “She just found some pictures and started asking questions.”
But Burke, by no choice of his own, was a no-show because he was doing what he does best — performing emergency surgery on a child.
Addeo, who came from Boca Raton, said she was willing to wait so that her daughter could meet him.
“He is worth the wait.”