10-year-old travels from Houston to Boston and wows her surgeon with piano performance

Jessica pianoJessica Lewsley’s annual follow-up appointment with her orthopedic surgeon Dr. Peter Waters is a fairly routine affair—x-rays and strength and function testing. Jessica was born with a birth defect to her left hand, which developed only a thumb and little finger. “Dr. Waters always shares little pearls of wisdom, and we all look forward to our visit every year,” says Jessica’s father Mike.

This year’s visit, however, was a bit different.

Mike pulled out his iPad and showed Waters a Jessica playing “Alouette” on the piano.

“It will move you to tears,” says Waters. “Rather than focusing on what is missing, Jessica and her family have been great about celebrating all that she can do. Their acceptance, love and support has had a major impact on her life.”

Pearls of wisdom

The Lewsleys, Mike and his wife Juliet, first met Waters when Juliet was pregnant with Jessica. The couple was living in Boston, and doctors had detected a problem with their unborn daughter’s left hand during a routine ultrasound.

The parents-to-be were shocked and wanted to learn as much as they could about their baby’s prognosis. After genetic testing showed Jessica’s condition was limited to her hand, the Lewsleys responded as many parents do.

They were relieved but also worried about Jessica’s future. What would she be able to do? How would her life be affected? Would she be bullied? How could they ensure a happy, healthy childhood?

Waters answered every question the parents-to-be asked and focused on supporting the family as well as meeting Jessica’s surgical needs.

“Caring for Jessica very importantly includes understanding how to help her grow into the independent, confident, capable, self-assured adult she will be someday,” says Waters.

“Dr. Waters always says the right thing at the right time. He has a way of reassuring us, of lifting us up without sugarcoating things. He has amazing insights that comes from his tremendous volume of experience,” explains Juliet.

Waters visited Jessica and her parents the day she was born, and they scheduled surgery to separate the two digits on her left hand when she was six months old.

Jessica baby

The surgery was a success. Jessica left the hospital in a large pink cast. Waters prescribed physical and occupational therapy to set the foundation for as much function as possible. Jessica did what babies do—she learned to crawl, walk and talk, adapting and doing some things her own way.

She was proving one of Waters’ pearls of wisdom. “The brain is far smarter than the hand.”

“Dr. Waters always says the right thing at the right time. He has a way of reassuring us, of lifting us up without sugarcoating things. He has amazing insights that comes from his tremendous volume of experience,” explains Juliet.

Then, shortly after Jessica turned 2, the family moved to Houston.

Houston or Boston?

After recommending a few colleagues in the Houston area and prepping the family for a smooth transfer of care, Waters said good-bye to the young family.

Within a year, Mike and Juliet made a decision. They would bring Jessica back to Boston every year for a follow-up visit with Waters.

“You want the best care you can get for your child. We come here because we’re coming to a physician and an organization that genuinely cares about Jessica,” says Mike.

Jessica and her rubber band creations
Jessica and her rubber band creations

Her parents’ emphasis on compassion and excellence is a priority Jessica has absorbed.

She has surrounded herself with friends who support her and focus on her abilities—which are fairly impressive. In addition to her skillful piano playing, Jessica loves to make stuff—from 3D rubber band creations to homemade slime. And she enjoys helping others through Girl Scouts.

Looking ahead, Jessica hopes to expand her musical horizons and add violin to her repertoire. “Her hand will not be her barrier to success in any endeavor she chooses,” predicts Waters.

Learn more about Boston Children’s Hand and Orthopedic Upper Extremity Program.