On Sunday, June 3, Beach teen Matt Fleming will strap on his bike helmet and take to the streets in an event that is very close to his heart. He will be riding in the Becel Heart & Stroke Ride for Heart. But Matthew is not just a participant. This cycling enthusiast is also a Survivor Ambassador Spokesperson who has spent the better part of his 17 years undergoing lifesaving heart surgeries.
Mere hours after Matt was born, doctors discovered he had a closed heart valve, severely limiting blood flow from the heart to his lungs.
“My pulmonary valve was shrivelled up like a raisin, and there were two holes in my heart,” said Matt.
When he was just 11 days old, doctors inserted a stent, or tube, into his heart. After spending 21 days in hospital, his parents were finally able to take their newborn home.
Six months later, Matt was back in hospital, this time for a full open-heart operation. Surgeons replaced the faulty heart valve with a porcine, or pig, valve, a replacement doctors advised may only last six years.
“It ended up lasting for 10, which was nice,” said Matt.
Since then, Matt has had two more valve replacement surgeries, at age 10 and again last May, at age 16, and realizes these procedures will be a part of his life for the foreseeable future. The latest one, however, was new and much less invasive, done by catheterization through an artery in his leg.
“His last valve repair was medically nothing short of amazing, and innovative and certainly safer for Matt,” said his mom Kelly.
“When they don’t have to open me up all the way, it’s so much easier and the recovery time is so much faster,” said Matt. “They suspect it will last seven to 10 years, but it’s so new they don’t really know how long it will last because nobody’s has run out yet.”
Matt’s condition has not held him back. In fact, he’s been to hospital a couple of other times for what might be considered more typical for teens – sports injuries.
“I was doing mountain biking, downhill biking and dirt jumping, but I injured my knee pretty bad. Then I dislocated it when snowboarding,” he said.
Matt’s involvement with the Ride began five years ago when he signed up as a participant.
“I started by doing the Ride, and the picture I used for my fundraising page was a picture of me in the hospital,” he said. “Somebody from the Heart and Stroke Foundation found it and contacted my mom about it, and from that I started speaking at the Ride.”
He also made a video that can be found on the Heart and Stroke website and on YouTube by searching for ‘Matt Fleming Heart and Stroke Ride for Heart.’ This year marks his third as a Survivor Ambassador, a job he loves.
“They help me out a lot, and I enjoy helping them. I get to miss school, I get to go to fancy restaurants. It’s fun. And the ride’s great fun too. You get to ride on the Don Valley. I’m going to try to do 50 km this year. Last year I had a procedure two weeks before the Ride so I decided to take it easy and just do 25,” he said.
As they do every year, Matt’s parents and sister are looking forward to accompanying him on this year’s Ride.
“We are so grateful to the Heart and Stroke Foundation for the research they do as it has directly benefited Matt in so many ways,” said his mom.
For more information, visit rideforheart.ca.