Jesse Polys is a 14-year-old eighth grader from Williamsport, Pa. His home, where he lives with his mom and dad, is in a wooded area perfect for riding dirt bikes and four-wheelers. Jesse’s a bit of a daredevil –snowboarding with his dad and skateboarding are favorite things to do. He’s also an avid baseball player. Just a normal 14 year old teenage boy, right? Not quite.
“Jesse was born with aortic stenosis; a ventricular septic defect (VSD), which is a hole in one of the chambers of his heart and a coarctation of the aorta [a narrowing of the large blood vessel that delivers oxygen-rich blood to the body],” explains Jesse’s mom, Mackensie.
“Jesse was born in Lancaster and flown to Penn State Hershey the next day. It was extremely hectic and terrible. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House when we first got to Hershey. After that, we stayed in the waiting room for five weeks. I lived there; I never left,” she said. “We got to know other families. It was really like our family; like our home. It’s such a vulnerable time when you have a baby to begin with. Jesse was our first child. It got to the point where Hershey was like home for a long time. People always say, ‘I don’t know how you did it.’ I had family with me all the time. You just do it. You really don’t have a choice. It’s an innate strength. And [at Penn State Hershey], I always felt like I could ask any question I wanted.”
Jesse doesn’t remember much about his surgeries, but there have been many. At three days old, a balloon heart catheter; at five days old, surgery to repair the coarctation; at three months, he had his first open-heart surgery to replace the aortic valve and repair the VSD. And, at 6 years, a third open-heart surgery, this time a Ross Procedure, where Jesse’s aortic valve was replaced with his own pulmonary valve and a human valve was put in place of his pulmonary valve. This one he does remember feeling a little nervous about, but he says his family got him through it all. He missed only two weeks of school, Mackensie said, because “he was tough and strong.”
Jesse continues to see his cardiologist Stephen Cyran, M.D., Penn State Hershey Children’s Heart Group, every four to six months. He will soon have another valve replacement, but this time, thanks to advances in surgical methods, it will be through a heart catheter instead of open-heart surgery. “When we heard this, we were overjoyed,” said Mackensie. “When he was born we were afraid to let him cry, so we’ve come a really long way. It’s inspiring to have Jesse be so healthy.”
So what does the future hold for Jesse Polys? “I’m pretty normal. I can do anything,” Jesse said. He thinks about a career in sports management, but he still hasn’t figured that out. As he says, “I’m just a kid.” Right now, he’s happy being with family and friends, skateboarding, snowboarding, riding his dirt bike and four-wheeling.
And that’s inspiring.