Fetal surgeon and Ob-Gyn-in-chief Dr. Michael Belfort is often reunited with his patients, but the recent meeting he had with Sam Hancock was extra special. The teenager and his family made their way from Utah to Houston to meet Belfort, who saved Sam’s life before he was even born. The meeting was Sam’s 18th birthday wish and his parents, Alisa and Dennis, were happy to accommodate as Belfort’s name holds a high regard in their home.
“As a family, we are so grateful for Dr. Belfort,” Alisa said. “He deserves the credit for the skill and knowledge that gave Sam a chance at life.”
When Alisa was pregnant with Sam nearly two decades ago, an ultrasound showed severe swelling of her son’s neck. Doctors told her and Dennis their baby likely had a very serious condition and would not survive.
Later in her pregnancy, doctors noticed fluid building up in Sam’s chest cavity and told her there was no hope. That’s when the family found Belfort, who was practicing in Utah at the time and gave them the option of having fetal surgery. Belfort placed a shunt into Sam’s chest in hopes that fluid being produced would drain from his chest into the amniotic sac, relieving the pressure on his developing heart and lungs. The shunt worked for a short time, but then stopped. Belfort made a second attempt and it was successful in draining the fluid and taking the pressure off Sam’s heart and lungs.
Sam was delivered two months early as Alisa went into early labor because of extra fluid in her amniotic sac, a condition called polyhydramnios, which stretches the uterus making it extremely large. Despite several attempts to decrease the amount of fluid, labor could not be stopped.
Sam spent three months in the neonatal intensive care unit and underwent another surgery to place drains in his chest to relieve excess fluid. When he was discharged, Sam was on oxygen. At 2 years old, he was diagnosed with craniosynostosis, a condition where the skull bones are fused and cause a misshapen head. To correct the condition and to relieve pressure on his brain, Sam underwent yet another surgery.
Despite a rough start in life, Sam is a fighter. Though he battled some academic delays earlier in life, he worked hard to overcome his challenges and recently graduated with a 3.5 GPA and earned his Eagle Scout award. When asked what he wanted for his 18th birthday, he said he wanted to come to Houston to see Belfort, and to thank him for saving his life and never giving up on him.
“There are no words to express what I’m feeling right now,” Sam said after shaking Belfort’s hand and grinning ear to ear. “I am so happy to be here.”
Belfort said meeting back up with Sam and his family was a real treat and that he had never forgotten them.
“It was an unusual procedure at that time,” Belfort said of the operation he did on Sam more almost two decades ago. “I’m really glad it worked out. Sam is a delightful young man.”
During his visit to Houston, Belfort gave Sam and his family a tour of Texas Children’s Hospital and introduced them to Texas Children’s President and CEO Mark Wallace, who was so honored to meet Sam he personally sang Happy Birthday to the teenager.
After talking to Sam about his hopes and dreams, Wallace told him about his 10 leadership maxims and encouraged him to come up with his own personal definition of leadership.
“Now that you are 18, you are old enough to have your own definition of leadership,” Wallace said. “That definition should reflect you, your personality and your beliefs.”
Sam, who is looking forward to the next journey in his life and will soon be looking for a job, promised Wallace he would work on coming up with his personal definition of leadership and share it with him soon.