The Peronas were understandably jubilant. They had added a bundle of joy to their Martinsville, New Jersey family when they adopted three-month-old Katherine from Korea. Initially, all went well. According to mother Heather, “She met all her milestones, and was a normal, happy child.”
When she started kindergarten, Katherine experienced small delays, but then seemed to catch up. However, when she got upset or frustrated, her mother noticed there was some dragging of her right leg. That turned out to be a warning sign. Ultimately, in the first grade, Katherine had a stroke. Taken by ambulance to the hospital, she was subsequently diagnosed with moyamoya disease.
Moyamoya disease is a very rare, progressive disorder—more commonly seen in children than adults—that causes the arteries of the brain to become blocked. The word “moyamoya” is Japanese for “puff of smoke.” This refers to the appearance of tiny vessels bunched up, which form to compensate for the blockage. In a 2014 National Institutes of Health (NIH) published analysis*, it was determined that a high incidence of moyamoya was shown in Asian countries, particularly Korea, Japan, Taiwan and China.
What is it like to rely on a stranger to save your child’s life? That’s an unimaginable fate that was faced by the Bolger family.
On October 10, 2015, 19-year-old Matthew Bolger of Jersey City was out with a friend when he fell victim to a gunshot wound during an attempted robbery. On that day, his parents Connie and John Bolger met the woman who would ultimately save their son’s life.
Matthew had been taken to the ER at Jersey City Medical Center with a gunshot to the back of his head. With the bullet lodged in the front of his head, Dr. Allison Rathmann of Advanced Neurosurgery Associates was called upon to operate.
John tells the story of he and his wife: “When we went in, we were both in shock. But Dr. Rathmann was so calm, so sure of herself. ‘Don’t worry about it; I got it. I’m going to take good care of him.’ That calmed us down a bit. When we went in, we weren’t sure he was going to make it. She was so reassuring; we stopped even considering he might pass away. She made us feel he was going to be okay.”