By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
As the shot rolled around the rim before dropping in, Randy and Jane Beachy cheered for their teenage son like any supportive parents would.
Around them, the gym erupted with cheers and applause. Even the referees and the opposing team clapped, as Nathan Beachy ran to celebrate with his teammates.
But for 16-year-old Nathan, it was just the latest in a series of goals he’s been accomplishing since he was a baby.
Never mind the diagnosis of Down syndrome or the open-heart surgery at just 3 months old. He is living his best life.
“He’s come a long way,” said Jane Beachy, from the family’s northern Indiana home, where her son plays on the MCAC (Mishawaka Christian Athletic Club) Wildcats.
In the background, Nathan can be heard shouting, “Go Wildcats!”
Born in South Bend, he was diagnosed with two holes in his heart that would require surgery to close. His cardiologist had hoped the boy could wait until closer to his first birthday to have the operation, but “he just did not grow,” his mom said.
“His heart and lungs were working so hard. Eventually, he began to deteriorate, and we had to get him in for surgery.”
Nathan was transferred to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where Dr. Mark Rodefeld operated on the 11-week-old to repair two septal defects.
The boy’s parents were told to expect to be at Riley for 10 to 14 days while Nathan recovered, but they were discharged after only four days.
“His recovery was amazing,” Jane Beachy said. “We had all kinds of people praying for us.”
The family, which includes two older daughters, wanted to share Nathan’s progress with Dr. Rodefeld, grateful for his role in saving the boy’s life.
“We thought he might enjoy seeing one of his patients experiencing joy and living life to its fullest,” Randy Beachy said, referring to a video that captures Nathan on the basketball court.
“We’d like to say to Dr. Rodefeld, ‘Here is one of your success stories. He’s come a long way,’ ” Jane Beachy said.
It’s the kind of feedback that Dr. Rodefeld welcomes, calling it a privilege to take care of children and see them flourish years later.
“It really is gratifying,” the surgeon said. “I am constantly reminded that many of my patients are going to outlive me, and I often share that with parents. Most are concerned about what their child’s life will be like and whether they’ll have restrictions.”
Other than being asked to avoid aggressive contact sports like football, most don’t have restrictions, Dr. Rodefeld said.
When told that Nathan loves roller coasters, he laughed and said, “I’m glad he enjoys that, and I’m sure his heart is just fine.”
A heart surgeon at Riley for about 20 years, Dr. Rodefeld said he prefers to send patients and parents home with a dose of encouragement rather than a list of restrictions.
“For me, the message is, you can’t really restrict a child very easily, nor should you,” he said. “They should grow up believing there’s nothing they can’t do. I strongly believe in that.”
Nathan seems to have gotten the message.
When he’s not playing basketball or going to theme parks, the teen has plenty of interests to keep him busy.
He’s a greeter at his church, where people look forward to his bright smile, his warm hugs and enthusiastic handshakes, his parents said.
He loves riding his bike, swimming, boating and kayaking. He has an ear for music and loves playing the drums. He also likes to draw, make lists and organize things – his closet, drawers, videos and toys.
Hearing stories like this from former patients makes Dr. Rodefeld’s day.
“I get Christmas cards, birthday updates and thank-you notes. It’s extremely gratifying and helps to balance out some of the more challenging times.”