Love match at Mount Sinai
“Trophy Tour” brings silver to medical center
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
16-year-old Tyler Buxbaum is a great tennis player.
But that is just one of the reasons he got to hold the U.S. Open trophy one recent Friday afternoon at Mount Sinai Medical Center.
Mount Sinai is the official medical provider for the U.S. Open and U.S. Tennis Association (USTA), which kicked off this past August 26th. The USTA conducted a “Trophy Tour” of the Men’s and Women’s U.S. Open trophies with patients at Mount Sinai on Fri., Aug. 9th.
The opportunity was a unique one as the trophies, created by Tiffany, are usually under lock-and-key at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island.
First to handle the vaunted trophy at Mount Sinai was Tyler.
While it is true that the trophies he carried have been held also by the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Serena Williams, Tyler is a champion in his own right.
“He’s a one-in-a-million miracle,” said his mother, Dawn Buxbaum.
Tyler was born prematurely after doctors discovered that he had a critical aortic stenosis while in utero. An aortic stenosis is the narrowing of the aortic valve, which pumps blood in the heart. A narrowed valve can inhibit blood flow.
Many medical professionals with whom she consulted did not think Tyler would survive over sixteen years ago.
They explained to Buxbaum that her options were to get an abortion, or have her newborn endure a battery of heart operations.
She opted to see if a novel new procedure offered at Mount Sinai would work.
As soon as Tyler, who was born prematurely, arrived, he underwent a cardiac catheterization, in which doctors inserted a tube in his valve to make sure blood could properly flow to and from the heart. It was a new procedure at the time, with uncertain results.
Dr. Ira Parness, Chief, Division of Pediatric Cardiology, has been with the family since Tyler’s birth. While cardiac catheterization will improve a patient’s condition most of the time, the yielded results will often vary. In some cases, it is enough to save someone’s life, but not enough to give them normal heart function, and in these cases patients have to get transplants.
After his first catheterization, Tyler had to get a second procedure to increase blood flow while he was still an infant.
Then, the family waited for him to recover.
It took two years for his heart to function properly.
In the meantime, Buxbaum kept receiving unsolicited advice.
“One friend told me I should have a second child, just in case,” she said.
But that was not really an option for Buxbaum.
Besides her successful pregnancy with Tyler, Buxbaum had only been pregnant once before, and had a late-term miscarriage.
Between those, she suffered years of infertility.
Now, with the exception of mild leakage that Tyler takes medication for, his heart performs like that of any normal teenager—only better, some might say.
To the amazement of his family and doctors, Tyler decided to take up tennis six years ago after a casual game with his father, and getting clearance from his medical team.
He now plays varsity tennis for his high school team.
“He’s the best you could hope for,” said Dr. Parness.
The cardiac catheterization procedure that Tyler had has since been done on other patients with aortic stenosis, but not with the same results.
Some have to get transplants, and other can lead normal lives, but with limited physical activity.
“He’s the super outcome. There’s a bell-shaped curve and he’s at the upper tail of that curve,” said Dr. Parness. “Hopefully the long-term will be great for him.”
If the polished silver trophies that Tyler was carrying around the hospital were any indication, the curve continues to point upward.
On Friday, Tyler went from room to room with the trophies, visiting patients at Mount Sinai, who took the opportunity to brush their skin cells on the same surface that tennis greats have touched.
Miguel Rosenthal, who was receiving physical therapy after brain surgery impaired his left leg’s functions, took the opportunity to kiss one of the trophies.
“It’s very exciting, but I have in my own house a very big gold trophy,” said Rosenthal, a native of Argentina, who boasted of several trophies for his achievements in amateur golf.
Despite his own treasure at home, the sight of the U.S. Open trophy made him beam nonetheless. He explained that his favorite tennis players are Roger Federer, and the Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.
Mikial Abdur-Rahim, of the South Bronx, recently had his lower left leg amputated, and was undertaking physical rehabilitation when Tyler walked into the room with the trophies.
Abdur-Rahim held it above his head victoriously.
As a child, he used to play tennis at Crotona Park in the Bronx.
“I’m a big fan.”
Some of his favorite players are Venus and Serena Williams, Federer and Nadal.
Tyler’s own favorite player is Federer.
“I get my playing style from him,” he explained. “People hate to play me because I extend my matches.”
Danny Mollica was in his room recovering from knee surgery when Tyler came in bearing the trophies. He couldn’t pass the opportunity to grasp one in his arms.
“For me?” he asked with a smile. “I want to see this puppy.”
Mollica, who is legally blind, has never played tennis, but enjoys pool and bowling.
This is the second operation he has had on his knee.
“They had to chop it up again.”
Mollica hopes to “run around, like always,” when he is fully recovered.
Tyler saw his trophy-bearing as an opportunity to spread hope.
“It feels good to see the other patients. I know some aren’t as fortunate as me, [because] I have no restrictions. Maybe they can see what they can aspire to be,” in term of recovery, said the teen.
Tyler knows his heart condition will be something he deals with, but it is not something he dwells on.
“It’s a part of me, but it doesn’t define me.”
For more information on the Mount Sinai Medical Center, please visit www.mountsinai.org.