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Kid with Real Heart: Capturing the "Everyday of Max"

Kid with Real Heart: Capturing the "Everyday of Max"

When Mark Bolton, a photojournalist from Rochester, NH, is not on assignment for the New Hampshire Union Leader or snapping candid moments at a wedding reception, he’s spending as many spare and carefree hours as he can with his eight-year-old son Max.

Whether rollerblading, riding trains, or hunting dragons in the woods, Bolton cherishes every opportunity to share in his son’s experiences while his childhood lasts. And of course, if there’s an image of Max worth preserving, even downhill and mid-sprint, Bolton lifts the camera to his eye.

“My wife likes to tell people she has two kids,” Bolton says. “She has Max, and she has me.”

An exhibit called “The Everyday of Max,” featuring 20 photographs taken and selected by Bolton, recently opened in the Endoscopy hall on Level 4 at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). The images portray a kid being a kid, as seen through the eyes of a father being a kid too, amplifying their father-son bond.

In September 2008, when Kristin Bolton was twenty weeks pregnant with Max, following an ultrasound at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) in Nashua, doctors diagnosed Max with a congenital heart defect. They discovered holes between the right and left chambers of the heart, which can cause the valves that regulate blood flow between these chambers not to form correctly—this is known as an atrioventricular septal defect.

When Max was born via caesarian section on February 12, 2009, at DHMC, doctors also discovered that his mitral valve, which lets blood flow between the two heart chambers, had what is known as a mitral valve cleft. After two weeks of tests and monitoring, he was discharged and placed in the clinical care of Naomi Gauthier, MD, in Pediatric Cardiology at CHaD at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, NH, who took a wait-and-see approach to his heart defect.

Several more weeks later, Gauthier observed that Max had not been growing correctly or eating sufficiently, and determined, along with a cardiologist and surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital, that he would need open heart surgery to repair his heart, which took place in July 2009 at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Following a week-long recovery, Max and his parents resumed a relatively normal life. But at a routine checkup with Gauthier some five years later, she detected new issues with his mitral valve, which a second surgery would be required to fix.

As painful as it was for the Boltons to watch Max head off to the operating room again, they had complete confidence in Gauthier and his surgeon. The valve repair was successful, and follow-up tests determined that Max likely wouldn’t need surgical intervention for many years, maybe decades.

It didn’t take long for Max to get back to doing all the things he loved to do—running around the playground or going to gymnastics practice.

Bolton says the photo exhibit is, in part, an expression of thanks to the doctors, nurses and staff of CHaD who have cared for Max. “This is where it all began for him,” he says, “and we are deeply grateful for the experience we’ve had here.”

He also hopes these “everyday” images of Max inspire other parents and their families to spend more unstructured time together. “Enjoy the everyday that you have with your children, just the time that you can be with your child.”

And when it comes to documenting that special time, Bolton insists, “Take fewer selfies—or ‘ussies!’ The most memorable photos are the random, occasional ones you take when they’re not expecting it.”