Nov. 12, 2012 at 12:25 PM ET
The smiling infant in the photo seems oblivious to the huge surgery scar running down his chest – perhaps that’s why 3 month-old Joseph Powling’s photo has become the latest Web meme, with more than a million likes on Facebook.
Baby Joey was diagnosed with a serious heart condition when he was still in his mother’s womb. Doctors told Joey’s parents that their baby had a rare congenital heart defect, called Tetralogy of Fallot, which would need to be corrected surgically shortly after he was born.
The condition left Joey with a hole in his heart, along with several other life-threatening symptoms. But none of that was apparent in his first days of life.
“He was actually doing pretty well when he was born,” his mom Sarah Powling told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “So usually if babies are doing well when they’re born they like to wait until 3 months when they are the right weight and everything.”
Baby Joey came through the open heart surgery happy and healthy. And five days after that, when the bandages came off, his parents took the photo that would eventually be seen round the world.
That wasn’t the couple’s plan: initially they posted the ever-so-cute photo privately on their Facebook page. But when Sarah’s brother saw it, he asked if he could share it on one of his favorite websites.
“My brother thought it was really cool looking, I guess,” Sarah told Lauer. “And he said, ‘Can I post it to this website I go on, Reddit? And I said OK, sure. It just took off from there.”
Known at the "Ridiculously Goodlooking Surgery Baby," photos of Baby Joey, smiling with open shirt showing his surgery scar, were given captions such as "STEALS YOUR HEART YOU DON'T MIND."
The infant's condition is fairly rare.
The National Institute of Health's National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says five out of 10,000 babies are born with the condition. Without surgery to correct the heart defects, babies don't get enough oxygen and most will die before age 20.
"It’s not common but in the pediatric world, it’s really well known," NBC’s chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman explained. "But with heart surgery and doing well, life expectancy is normal,” Snyderman said.
Even the scar that looks so large now won’t have much of an impact as Joey grows, Snyderman said.
“The scar is very long in proportion to his body,” she said. “But because the surgery was done very early in life and the cells will divide so quickly that scar is not going ot look like much when he is a young hunk.”
In other words, that 5-inch scar will always be 5 inches. But baby Joey’s body will continue to grow around it making it look smaller and smaller as he ages.
Scar or not, Joey’s parents are happy he’s come through it all.
“I’m very proud,” said his dad, Joseph. “He’s recovering well.”
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