Surgeons show hope is where the heart is
Child in a Million 8pm, Seven
ALEX Clementson, 7, is a boy with a rare, horrible disease. He has Gorham- Stout syndrome, more commonly known as vanishing bone disease. Considered incurable, it first ate away at his lower jaw, almost totally destroying it. His jaw was rebuilt using a metal plate and bone from his leg, allowing Alex to eat solid food for the first time in two years, but the disease recurred, attacking his face and swelling the tissue to startling proportions.
Britain’s Channel Five has made an entire series about children such as Alex and their diseases. Narrated by John Waters, the program is titled Child in a Million. There is an uncomfortable element of voyeurism in the award- winning series, as there is with all reality medical programs, but Alex is probably too young to mind much.
And his mother is a natural on camera. Talking in a broad Nottingham accent, she is obviously besotted with her brave little boy. It is fascinating to see how parents cope with these debilitating and often fatal conditions. Alex had to have a breathing hole cut into his neck at one stage and his mother insisted on changing the dressing herself every day. He takes medicine via a tube in his stomach, and has endured punishing six- week cycles of combined chemotherapy- steroid treatment.
The other child in this episode, Matthew Banks, 12, had a serious heart operation at Great Ormond Street. Matthew is a New Yorker and the program doesn’t explain who funded his operation. ( Alex is a British citizen and his medical care was no doubt paid for by the National Health Service.) Born without a pulmonary valve, Matthew had open- heart surgery when he was two and a tiny artificial valve was implanted in his heart. But the little valve was wearing out. His only option in the US was open- heart surgery and doctors believed it would probably kill him in his weakened state. But at Great Ormond Street, a surgeon had perfected a technique for implanting a new valve via a vein in the leg.
Matthew, like Alex, has become accustomed to a life of needles and sterile swabs, nurses prodding and doctors asking grave questions. But Matthew’s prognosis is good: the operation is a success and within hours his lips and cheeks are looking pinker. Within a few months he is belting a baseball and running around a back yard.
His parents, too, are devoted to their son: his father says he would give Matthew his heart if he could. Channel Five manages to get the money shot: the surgeon telling Matthew’s parents the operation was a roaring success. Both his mother and his father burst into tears.
Roaring success: The trip to London pays off for Matthew Banks, 12