‘Super’ tot Jack Foley recovers from third surgery

The Thanksgiving menu for the Foley family features turkey and tears — of joy.

Jack Foley, a redheaded tyke born with just half a heart, will celebrate with the clan mere weeks after his third reconstructive heart surgery at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital of New York-Presbyterian.

“When our family sits down to Thanksgiving dinner and says grace and what we are thankful for, I am sure there will not be one dry eye at the table,” said the courageous boy’s mother, Lauren Kiefer-Foley.

“It’s just amazing that he has come through these three surgeries better than anyone expected and he has a good chance at a long, happy life. It’s all any parent wants to hear for a child.”

The adorable 2-year-old is miraculously riding his bike and dancing around his Long Island living room, the best news for parents Lauren and Rob Foley in a long time.

“We have gone through so much as a family with losing my [firefighter] brother Michael on Sept. 11, and my sister Kerri’s diagnosis of [multiple sclerosis],” said Kiefer-Foley, a special-education teacher in Far Rockaway.

“And then Jack’s diagnosis — there was so much sadness. But this year, to see all three surgeries behind us, you can’t help but be beyond grateful.”

The active little boy was featured on the Daily News front page in June as the family braced for the third operation by Dr. Emile Bacha, New York-Presbyterian’s chief of congenital and pediatric cardiac surgery.

Bacha performs about 35 of the surgeries annually.

Holding a Thanksgiving placard with a ubiquitous hand-traced turkey drawing, Jack Foley is the picture of good health. 'My boo-boos are all better,' he says of his surgical scars.

Susan Watts/New York Daily News

Holding a Thanksgiving placard with a ubiquitous hand-traced turkey drawing, Jack Foley is the picture of good health. ‘My boo-boos are all better,’ he says of his surgical scars.

Jack, nicknamed “Super Jack” by the hospital staff, is now thriving and bursting with all-boy energy.

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Hiking up his T-shirt, Jack displays a long scar bisecting his tiny chest. Gone are the tubes, IVs and bandages that followed his surgeries.

“Look, Mommy,” beams the irrepressible toddler. “My boo-boos are all better.”

Jack was diagnosed when Kiefer-Foley was five months pregnant with hypoplastic left heart syndrome — a rare and complex heart defect in which the left side of the heart does not develop.

Just a decade ago, the diagnosis was fatal for most children.

Jack, as it turned out, was not like most children.

The relentlessly upbeat boy proved a resilient patient, bouncing back after each of the complex operations. His first came on April 29, 2011, at 4 days old, and the second just four months later.

One day after his Oct. 23 surgery, Jack was winking at the hospital staff. Twelve days later, he left the hospital for home.

Jack Foley, shown with dad Rob, wears his doctor costume for Halloween while recovering from life-saving surgeries performed by Dr. Emile Bacha at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at New York-Presbyterian.

Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News

Jack Foley, shown with dad Rob, wears his doctor costume for Halloween while recovering from life-saving surgeries performed by Dr. Emile Bacha at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at New York-Presbyterian.

Even his surgeon was surprised by the child’s spunk and spirit.

“To hear that Jack is dancing at home after this major and massive surgical undertaking and is running around as if nothing has happened a few weeks later, that feeling for a surgeon is beyond words,” said Bacha, the father of three grown children.

Looming ahead for Jack is the possibility of a heart transplant later in life, although some kids survive and thrive with their reconstructed organs.

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But the boy’s parents, after the third major operation, are finally looking to the future instead of nervously over their shoulders.

“I look forward to getting to some normalcy, without a big surgery looming over us,” said Jack’s father, Rob, a Northport, L.I., firefighter. “Not as many doctor visits.

“I am looking forward to just letting him be more of a kid than before.”

Kiefer-Foley, 34, recalls the advice of some doctors to terminate the pregnancy once a routine ultrasound of her fetus revealed Jack’s problem.

Only about 960 infants are born each year with the syndrome, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Emile Bacha, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital at New York-Presbyterian, holds patient Jack Foley, on whom the doctor operated three times to repair the left side of the toddler's heart.

Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News

Dr. Emile Bacha, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital at New York-Presbyterian, holds patient Jack Foley, on whom the doctor operated three times to repair the left side of the toddler’s heart.

“He has proven so much and proven so many doctors wrong … [doctors] telling me that he is not going to have a good quality of life even if he does survive,” said Kiefer-Foley.

“We never thought we would get to this point.”

But they have. The happy parents are already thinking about putting Jack into preschool. Proud pop Rob imagines Jack fitted with a chest protector and swinging a bat in Little League.

The two are already playing a little catch, and Jack loves a ride on the swings with his dad providing the push at a nearby park.

Contact sports like football and basketball are a no-no — but swimming and golf present no such threat.

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“That will be a new hobby for me,” said Rob Foley. “Learning how to play golf, and then teaching him.”

Joining Jack and his parents at the Thanksgiving meal are his four grandparents, his Aunt Kerri and her husband, Anthony, and his favorite playmate — 2-year-old cousin Mikey.

His parents noted their list of people to thank this year was a little longer than usual.

Lauren Kiefer-Foley can't contain her happiness over son Jack Foley's good health in spite of a rare heart defect and three surgeries.

Susan Watts/New York Daily News

Lauren Kiefer-Foley can’t contain her happiness over son Jack Foley’s good health in spite of a rare heart defect and three surgeries.

“There are no right words to describe how thankful we are to the hospital, to Dr. Bacha and to Jack’s cardiologist,” said Kiefer-Foley.

Her husband added their family and many friends for “all the prayers … sent over the last almost three years.”

While the rest of the family enjoys turkey with all the trimmings, Jack made a special Thanksgiving request — his Aunt Kerri’s homemade chicken nuggets and his mother’s roasted broccoli.

And he is already looking toward Christmas.

Jack’s list for Santa Claus included a new T-ball set and some Play-Doh.

For the parents, Christmas came early this year when their son left the hospital.

Rob Foley said the successful surgeries sent a good message to other families struggling with the same disease.

“It’s a scary diagnosis,” he said. “But there is hope and they will get through it. Jack is living proof.”

* * *

Medical history of ‘Super’ Jack Foley:
— A routine ultrasound in December 2010 shows the left side of Jack’s heart was not developing.
— Born April 25, 2011.
— After diagnosis of rare hypoplastic left heart syndrome, undergoes first surgery at 4 days old.
— Second surgery done at 40 days old.
— Third surgery done Oct. 23.
— Returned home to his family Nov. 4.

hevans@nydailynews.com


Lifestyle – NY Daily News

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