Michael Eaton's Story

Michael Eaton loves manning the outfield for his baseball team, eating lots of pizza, playing video games with friends and of course, teasing his three older sisters – he’s a sixth-grade boy, after all. What’s not typical about this 12-year-old? The extraordinary health challenges he has faced, including 12 surgeries and counting.
Born with Goldenhar Syndrome, Michael has a congenital disability that involves deformities of the face, dental problems and spinal cord malformations. His string of operations began his first month of life when doctors placed a gastrostomy tube into his stomach. He has been back and forth as a patient at Goryeb Children’s Hospital (GCH) ever since.
“It’s very hard,” says Christine Eaton, Michael’s mom. “He gets anxious before every operation, but he’s pushing through. He’s stronger than anyone I know.”
When other babies were teething and starting to crawl, Michael got a tracheostomy because of his unusually small airway, common in children born with this syndrome. After that, came tethered spinal cord release surgery at age two.  
GCH’s Craniofacial Center is in many ways Michael’s home-away-from-home. Gregg Jacob, DMD, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at the center, recently finished a procedure on Michael’s jaw bone. Dr. Jacob and his colleagues take a team approach to evaluate and treat patients with a wide variety of congenital or acquired craniofacial conditions. During his frequent visits to the hospital, the entire staff at Goryeb helped Michael and his family through his many procedures.
“Goryeb Children’s Hospital is very patient-oriented,” says Mrs. Eaton. “Whenever Michael is there, they are focused on him. It’s a great feeling. I know he’s in good hands and I don’t have to worry.”
Even with the more complicated operations, like the brain stem decompression surgery last year, Dr. Jacob recognizes how Mrs. Eaton’s positive attitude makes a difference. “She’s always very supportive of him,” says Dr. Jacob. “She has been stellar. Michael’s lucky to have her.”
The 36-year-old single mother of four seems to finesse each of Michael’s challenges with comfort and encouragement. Because Michael’s left ear was missing at birth, surgeons constructed one while he was in elementary school. At the same time, he had a deep-cleaning dental procedure at the hospital’s Leonard Szerlip Dental Center. Because Michael couldn’t open his mouth wide enough to properly brush, the dentist pulled nine baby teeth due to decay. “Let’s just say he had a very big visit from the tooth fairy that night,” says Mrs. Eaton.
Boosting Michael for his bravery and spunk is also second nature for Mrs. Eaton. The ongoing medical procedures are difficult, especially now that he’s in seventh grade and wants to hang with friends and play sports. His last major surgery this past spring sidelined him from baseball.
“He was sad, but in typical Michael style, he rebounded quickly,” says Mrs. Eaton. “He asked if he could go to the games to cheer for his teammates.”
To learn more about Goryeb and the Craniofacial Center, contact Gerri Kling, major gifts officer, at 973-593-2414 or gerri.kling@atlantichealth.org.

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