Labor Day Weekend, 1970.
Rhode Island State troopers escort an ambulance racing towards the Massachusetts border. There, Mass state troopers take over the escort and hurry the ambulance to Boston Children’s Hospital, where Dr. Donald Fyler is waiting. Upon arrival Fyler quickly determines that the vehicle’s most important passenger– a newborn baby – has a rare heart condition that demands complex surgery. Immediately.
The baby is rushed inside and a few hours later emerges from surgery with a repaired heart.
42 years later, Jim Skeffington is still very much a part of the hospital that saved him that summer day.
Jim was born with “transposition of the great arteries,” a serious heart defect in which the heart’s major arteries are reversed in a way that is exactly the opposite of the normal heart’s anatomy. Following the initial procedure that was performed the day he was born, Jim has been coming to Boston Children’s for four decades, receiving additional surgeries, check-ups, the installation of a pacemaker and what he calls “general adjustments to the hardware.”
“I’m a lifelong Boston Children’s patient,” Jim proudly states. “I’m very grateful to everyone who works there, everyone who has helped with my treatment over the years.”
For the first part of Jim’s life, Fyler oversaw all of his treatment—surgeries, check-ups and countless office appointments. Jim says Fyler’s calm demeanor, “familiar voice of authority and comfort” and his ability to “synthesize complex information” was unparalleled, ensuring that he and his parents always understood what was happening with his treatment.
“I saw him so frequently that, over time, he became almost like family member,” he says.
But Fyler was more than a comforting fixture at Jim’s bedside. In addition to caring for patients he also pioneered the research of clinical outcomes for infant cardiac patients. Through his work with the New England Regional Infant Cardiac Program, Fyler designed the first study to document the incidence and treatment of heart disease in newborns and infants throughout the northeast coast.
As he got older, Jim’s care was transitioned seamlessly from Fyler to Dr. Ed Walsh. When Jim was in his late teens and a student at Boston College, Jim met with Walsh to discuss treatment options for an irregular heartbeat. During that meeting, Walsh presented Jim with a history of the many complicated procedures and treatments that Jim had had since he first arrived at Boston Children’s.
“Amazed by the level of work” that went into his care over the years, Jim was inspired to make a deep commitment to the hospital: “I decided that when I got out of college and found my way in life I was coming back to the hospital and I was going to make a contribution.”
True to his word, Jim, along with his parents James Sr. and Barbara, created the Skeffington Family Fellowship in Cardiology honoring Dr. Donald C. Fyler. With a $1 million endowment, the program provides annual salary support in perpetuity for a fellow in the Cardiovascular Program. The mission of the fellowship is to train the next generation of leaders in cardiac care and accelerate the pace of discovery, treatment and cure for Boston Children’s sickest heart patients.
In addition to his work with the fellowship, Jim continues to promote and support Boston Children’s as a member of the Boston Children’s Hospital Trust, Board of Trustees. A self-described “passionate advocate” for the institution and its mission, Jim says “I’m just one of the legions of people who have been helped by the miracles that happen at this hospital. Any investment I can make, whether it’s time or resources, I’m going to do it.”
Jim’s connection to Boston Children’s is as strong and steady as his heartbeat, which is still monitored by Boston Children’s staff.
“I’m very grateful for Dr. Don Fyler and more recently Dr. Ed Walsh. I’m still a beneficiary of the hospital and its remarkable work,” Jim states, explaining that he continues to meet regularly with Walsh who monitors his condition to this day. At times, his visits have required him to stay overnight, even meeting much younger heart patients at the hospital. “I meet kids as young as three or four, kids from all over the world,” Jim reports, and “I’m inspired by their personal stories and journies to Boston Children’s and the hospital’s ability to successfully treat them..”
As for his own story, Jim looks back on his life-long relationship with the institution with gratitude and hope for the future: “I’m always reminded of what a jewel we have in Boston Children’s Hospital.”
Boston Children’s treats many adult patients like Jim. In most cases they are people who have been treated by Boston Children’s physicians since childhood, but continue to see our clinicians because a familiarity with their medical history is required for proper treatment. Our Boston Adult Congenital Heart (BACH) and Pulmonary Hypertension Service is dedicated to continuing care for patients like Jim to ensure they stay healthy, long after they’ve graduated to adult care.
For more information on how Boston Children’s Trust supports heart patients like Jim, please click here.