NBC 6’s Keith Jones is seen on the anchor desk, in the field, and all over South Florida. But what you haven’t seen is a private pain that Keith and his family have dealt with and how his role as a dad has helped guide the family through even the darkest of times.
“She’s been through hell and back and she persevered,” Jones said.
Keith is talking about one of his two beautiful daughters, Madeline. The 18-year-old is brimming with life, but just a few months ago, her heart was on the verge of stopping for good.
“I knew my heart wasn’t going to last me much longer,” Madeline said. “I knew I had probably a year.”
From birth, Madeline has been battling hypotrophic myopathy. It’s a disease of the heart muscle when the muscle grows too big.
“The heart pumps too fast, too strong, and it blocks the pathway for blood to flow out of the heart,” said Dr. Jeffrey P. Jacobs.
“When she was a few weeks old, she was having these episodes,” Keith said. “She started getting really rigid, shake, and pass out or fall asleep.”
At just 18 months, Madeline had her first open heart surgery, a left ventricular resection. In essence, it was a roto-rooter inside the heart. Madeline’s mom had to deliver her sister, Mary Margaret, now 16, three-weeks premature because Madeline desperately needed the surgery.
After the operation, Madeline got more troubling news. Her heart rhythm was way out of sync and an important valve destroyed. Ultimately, doctors were forced to implant a pacemaker into the child.
“I want to say kids are more resilient than adults, but I think she takes it to a new level,” Keith said.
The battered heart kept Madeline going for 17 years with endless trips in and out of the hospital to keep her alive. All throughout the process, Keith, her loving dad, was by her side. Then perhaps Madeline’s biggest fight of her young life was revealed.
“It was another time when she became very ill,” Keith said through tears. “Her heart wasn’t doing very well. They wouldn’t let her leave the floor. So a lot of time was spent at the window at the end of the hall. She needed a hug.”
“I loved my old heart, someone probably wouldn’t understand,” Madeline said. “My heart was not good. You couldn’t do anything, but it was special to me. I was kind of upset, but I was excited for my new life afterwards.”
On October 23, 2013, Madeline was listed for transplant and confined to the hospital. Keith left the anchor desk expecting possibly a six-month wait. But, just 10 days later, Madeline’s new heart was found. It’s now beating in her chest and as Father’s Day weekend arrives, Madeline and her sister Mary Margaret are cherishing their family more than ever.
“It’ll be the first Father’s Day with him where I am healthy,” Madeline said. “I will be with my sister and not have to worry about anything.”
“It’s going to be special, just cause, we can kind of get back together and remember everything we’ve been through,” said Mary Margaret.