Matt Neil has been repairing and servicing medical equipment for years. It turns out he fixed the machine and saved his son’s life.
ST. LOUIS – At Siteman Cancer Center, cures often require power tools. Tools such as a linear accelerator.
“These machines deliver high doses or high radiation to patients,” said Dr. Stephanie Perkins.
Matt Neil’s job is to maintain and repair these complicated machines.
“I started in the navy and learned electronics,” he said. “While serving on a submarine.”
And when he is at work, a machine on the fritz is not an option.
“From the start, I’ve always said I’m going to treat these machines like someone I love is going to be treated with them,” said Neil.
Turns out that attitude was both compassionate and foresight.
Last year, doctors thought 6-year-old Isaiah Neil, Matt’s son, had sinusitis. But when Isaiah started to lose weight, Mother didn’t buy it.
“Something was wrong,” said Amber Neil. “I just knew something was wrong.”
A series of tests showed that Mom was right. The next thing she knew was that Isaiah was being transported by airlift from his home in Springfield, Missouri to St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“The next day we were diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis sarcoma,” she said.
RMS is the most common soft tissue cancer in children with about 350 new cases each year in the United States.
“So this is a cancer that can occur in many parts of the body in Isaiah, it started in his nasal cavity,” said Dr. Perkins.
Part of the treatment involves high-energy radiation, using the same machines that Matt Neil is working on.
“There were a few times when I went in to do maintenance and repairs on his machine,” said Matt, “and knowing that the next morning my little boy will be on that table getting radiation, that’s what made me have I’ve always said that’s much more real. “
Despite everything, Isaiah was a superhero. Keep in mind he’s the kind of kid who doesn’t even like Tylenol.
“I’ll take gummy vitamins, but that’s about it,” he said with a smile.
Just months after the diagnosis, the Neil family went from heartbreak to hope.
“We just cried when Dr. Perkins showed us the scans, ”Amber said.
The radiation therapy did its job and shrink the tumor. And while Isaiah will have to undergo chemotherapy for weeks, he got to celebrate by ringing the bell.
“ We expect him to get scans and visits with us here at Children’s in the coming years, ” said Dr. Perkins, “but he will go to school for the next few months and be back to normal.”
These machines that help save lives are a masterpiece of engineering. And for at least one family, supporting them is a work of heart.
“I hope we can inspire other people who have to be on those scary machines that it doesn’t have to be big and scary,” said Matt.