In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

June 30, 2022

Super Tom’s dads grateful for heart that saved their son – and the hearts that cared for him

By In the Loop
Matti and Shlomi Kalman Hillel with Tom.

Soon after they welcomed their son to the world, Matti and Shlomi Kalman Hillel learned little Tom would need a heart transplant. Tom was airlifted to Mayo Clinic, where the family waited for the call that would save their son's life. They credit Mayo Clinic staff for taking care of Tom – and them – while they waited.

Matti and Shlomi Kalman Hillel are tired. Very tired.

But they're not complaining. That's because they have a 7-month-old miracle to thank for their sleepiness: their son, Tom.

"He's amazing," Matti says. "He's happy to be at home."

Or, at his home away from home.

The Kalman Hillels, who are from Israel, came to Barron, Wisconsin, to adopt Tom in November 2021, expecting to stay a few weeks. But the day after Tom's birth, doctors discovered he had complex congenital heart disease. He was flown by air ambulance to Mayo Clinic for care.

"We understood that something bad happened," Shlomi tells CBS News Minnesota. "We didn't understand what and how bad is the situation."

At Mayo, doctors discovered "Tom's aortic valve was not pumping blood to his head and the rest of his body properly, and there was also a leak in another valve, the mitral valve," CBS Minnesota reports.

Tom would need a heart transplant to survive.

Matti and Shlomi Kalman Hillel with Tom.

That meant that instead of returning to Israel, Matti, Shlomi and their 5-year-old daughter, Emily, would need to make a temporary home in Rochester. They'd be away from family and friends during the most challenging time of their lives — a situation they say has been made easier by the staff at Mayo Clinic.

"The support system around the family at Mayo is phenomenal," Shlomi says. "Even though we're alone here, we have always felt we had a shoulder to cry on, someone we could talk to, someone to answer every question we had. That support is no less important than the medical treatment."

That support came from Tom's nurses, who "took care of Tom and they also took care of us," as well as other members of his care team, including cardiovascular surgeons Joseph Dearani, M.D., and Elizabeth Stephens, M.D., Ph.D.

"We are so grateful to Dr. Dearani and Dr. Stephens," Matti says. "They kept fighting for Tom."

And Tom kept fighting for himself. He was incredibly sick, but incredibly resilient. That earned him a nickname from staff: Super Tom.

We pour our heart and soul into these babies ... Before bed, I call in to see how they're doing, and at 5:30 a.m., before I brush my teeth, I'm on the phone to get updates.

Elizabeth Stephens, M.D., Ph.D.

"He's had a whole series of nicknames," Dr. Stephens says. "For a while he was '2 a.m. Tom' because he would quite consistently have some emergency and become medically unstable at 2 a.m. 'Super Tom' was because he has overcome so much. There were so many times where it seemed he wasn't going to make it."

But Super Tom held on, and on April 17, he received the life-saving gift of a new heart. That earned him a new nickname, memorialized in a drawing Dr. Stephens made on the bandage covering his incision: Triumphant Tom.

Dr. Stephens’ work isn’t done when she completes a surgery. The finishing touch is a bandage she creates to cover the surgical site. The slideshow below features bandages she made for Tom. You can see the bandages she created for other patients and learn how the tradition started in a previous News Center story.

"We are so thankful to the donor's family," Shlomi says. "There is nothing bigger in your life than to save a life. Especially in your darkest hour."

Matti agrees.

"We knew that our happiest hour would have a sad story on the other side," he says.

That's something the Kalman Hillels will never forget. "Tom will have two birthdays now, Nov. 20 and April 17, the day he got his heart. Every year we'll celebrate his second birthday and we'll also light a memorial candle in honor of his donor."

The Kalman Hillels will be in Rochester for at least a year so doctors can monitor Tom's new heart. That means they'll celebrate those milestones with the family they've made in Rochester.

"We pour our heart and soul into these babies, babies like Tom who are so sick and spend months with us," Dr. Stephens says. "Before bed, I call in to see how they're doing, and at 5:30 a.m., before I brush my teeth, I'm on the phone to get updates. They truly become family members."

Matti and Shlomi Kalman Hillel with Tom.

The Kalman Hillels are grateful to the Mayo family that helped make their little family whole.

"In Judaism you pray facing Jerusalem. In Islam you pray facing Mecca," Shlomi says. "We all need to pray facing places like Mayo Clinic. Rochester is my Jerusalem. They are my new religion. They are doing good and contributing to the world, every minute of every hour of every day. Mayo Clinic is a place filled with a lot of hope. Being at Mayo was an opportunity to see all the good in people."

Editor's note: Matti and Shlomi hope sharing Tom's story will help raise awareness about the need for organ donors. You can learn more about donation and how to register as a donor here.


Tags: Dr. Elizabeth Stephens, Dr. Joseph Dearani, Mayo Clinic Children's Center, Patient Stories, Pediatric Heart Transplant Program

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