The following story was published in the Telegram & Gazette on Feb. 28.
Doctors knew within a few minutes of Matthew Sadowski’s birth that something was wrong. “He was completely blue,” said his mother Becky Sadowski.
The Sadowskis had no warning that Matthew had a severe congenital heart defect. Mrs. Sadowski says she had a regular pregnancy; Matthew was her second child.
Children’s Hospital sent a team from Boston to get Matthew and within 14 hours of his birth, he had his first surgery to repair a pulmonary valve. He spent 15 days in the hospital, nine of those days on a ventilator.
Matthew is now 15 years old, and what Mrs. Sadowski likes best is when people say he looks and acts like every other student in his school, despite the second surgery to close a hole in his heart when he was 3½ and valve replacement surgery in 2013 that required nine months of recovery.
According to the American Heart Association, congenital heart defects are the most common defect among newborns. Matthew’s was so severe that he was diagnosed immediately.
Mrs. Sadowski her family are committed to raising people’s awareness, and they are taking part in the association’s Little Hats, Big Hearts program.
She crocheted and donated 16 little red hats to the program this year in honor of Matthew’s 16th birthday in June. The hats and information about congenital heart defects are being given to newborns and their parents at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Steward Health Care Systems this month.
“We have done the Worcester Heart Walk since 2001. Then I saw a Facebook story early last fall about the Little Hats program. Kids don’t look sick, but nine in a thousand will have a heart defect. The information that is given out with the hats tells parents about things like failure to thrive, which may be a symptom,” said Mrs. Sadowski.
Over 700 little red hats have been given out in February, and Mrs. Sadowski says that there has been positive feedback from the nurses and parents.
“I am going to keep making hats for next year,” she said.
“And she is dragging her friends into making them, too,” chimed in her husband, Eric.
Matthew’s younger sister Kayla helped to design the hats, finding a crocheted flower pattern to attach to the girls’ hats and a little brim for the boys’ hats.
Matthew is now a sophomore at Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg and an all-A student. He is majoring in cabinet making and says he wants to be a teacher. He is also a member of Fitchburg Boy Scout Troop 41 and aims to make Eagle Scout by his senior year. He is in the mixed martial arts club, the school’s ROTC unit and is a volunteer camp counselor during the summer.
“I can do anything I feel comfortable doing,” said Matthew. While active, he said he knows to rest when fatigue sets in.
“My dad’s parents asked after my valve replacement surgery if I was all set. I told them I would need another one in five or 10 years and they were surprised. It’s not what they expected to hear,” he said.
Which is why the family is committed to getting the word out about several different things – the Worcester Heart Walk on May 7; a blood drive at the Doubletree Hotel in Leominster from 2 to 7 p.m. April 19, and legislation that would make mandatory a simple screening test for congenital heart defects in infants.
“It’s called pulse oximetry, that little light that they put on your fingertip. It’s non-invasive and such a simple test to see what a baby’s oxygen saturation is,” said Mrs. Sadowski.