Matthew receives the gift of music—and life

If you’re attending the March 8 Chicago Dance Marathon in support of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, play close attention when 11-year-old bass virtuoso Matthew Jazwinski's rock band, Pulse Beat, performs. Matthew's bass provides a rhythmic pulse as insistent as a heartbeat. Ironically, Matthew’s own heart has no natural rhythm. Followed by the specialists at Lurie Children’s Heart Center, he was born with congenital heart defects and relies on an electronic pacemaker to regulate his heart’s rhythm.

Shortly after birth, Matthew was diagnosed at a Chicago area hospital with tetrology of Fallot, a series of heart defects that typically includes a large hole known as a ventricular septal defect and pulmonary stenosis, which affects blood flow to the lungs. He underwent his first corrective surgery at two months of age. 

As he got older, Matthew exhibited increasing signs of fatigue. “I remember that we would go to the swimming pool and Matthew could barely walk from parking lot to the pool,” says his mom, Tamara.

After Matthew’s resting heart rate dropped to 30 beats per minute (compared with a normal rate of 75 to 115 beats per minute for his age), doctors discovered that his heart’s natural pacemaker, known as the sinus node, did not work properly. At two and a half years of age, Matthew received his first pacemaker.

Looking for the best care for their son, Tamara and her husband, Greg, switched Matthew’s care to Lurie Children’s when he was five years old. 

The Heart Center at Lurie Children’s provides care for children and young adults with the most complex and serious heart conditions. It is the region’s largest children’s heart center, with 32 pediatric cardiologists and heart surgeons on staff. The Heart Center includes the Regenstein Cardiac Care Unit, a 36-bed unit that is one of the few cardiac units of its kind in the nation.

After experiencing chest pains, Matthew underwent a cardiac catheterization to detect further structural problems with his heart. While none were found, he continued to be  monitored  closely by his primary cardiologist, Gregory Webster, MD. When Matthew was almost 9, it was discovered that neither of the two leads connected to his pacemaker were working properly, and surgery was scheduled to implant a new device.

“After the surgery it was like having a new child,” says Tamara. “The toughest thing for Matthew was that he couldn’t play bass for six weeks.”

Today, Matthew has annual follow-ups with Dr. Webster, and four times a year diagnostic data from his pacemaker is transmitted by phone to a cardiology nurse at Lurie Children’s to monitor its performance.

“Dr. Webster and the other Cardiology team members are so thorough.” says Tamara. “I feel 100 percent certain that Matthew is getting the best care possible, and my only regret is that we didn’t come to Lurie Children’s first.”  

Matthew, who wants to be a professional musician, began playing guitar at age 5, and quickly turned his attention to its larger four-stringed cousin, the electric bass. Three years ago he joined the Rock Star 101 program at a local music store, and now has more than 40 gigs under his belt, ranging from community fundraisers to shows at major Chicago area music venues. The sixth grader has studied with Grammy winning bassist Victor Wooten, and also plays with the Cary Junior High Jazz Band and the North Suburban Youth Jazz Band.  

“Music has been such a gift to him – it allows him to communicate his passions to the world, and it really does provide a physical and emotional outlet for him,” says Tamara.

Matthew and his family strongly believe in giving back to Lurie Children’s. In addition to playing at the Chicago Dance Marathon, Pulse Beat will also perform at two other dance marathons benefitting the hospital: the Dance Marathon at UIC on April 19, and the DePaul University DemonTHON on May 16. He and his family are also on the steering committee of Chicagoland Cardiac Connections, a volunteer organization led by Dr. Webster and formed by patients, nurses and cardiologists at Lurie Children's to provide support for children and young adults with implanted pacemakers and cardioverter-defibrillators. 

“We’re happy to help in any way we can, because we’re fortunate that our son is alive and well,” says Tamara. “Matthew has been given the gift of music and of life, and we owe it to Lurie Children’s to give back."

Watch a video​ of Matthew playing bass at a charity event in support of Lurie Children’s Heart Center.