Eighteen-year-old Matt Freitas and 16-year-old Brendan Cogavin met as roommates at Boston Children’s Hospital, but that’s just a small part of why they’ve stayed in touch for the six years since.
“Their relationship goes beyond knowing each other at their worst,” says Melissa, Matt’s mom. “Brendan is cool, smart, and tries hard at everything he does — all qualities that Matt values. They’re just two really great kids and I know they’ll be connected forever.”
Meet Brendan: One in a million
As a baby, Brendan had various diagnoses that just didn’t add up — failure to thrive, low muscle tone, bilateral inguinal hernias, a cleft palate, and multiple minor heart defects. His pediatrician recommended genetic testing.
After visits with Dr. Amy Roberts, director of Boston Children’s Cardiovascular Genetics Research Program, and a series of tests, it was determined that Brendan was missing part of chromosome 6q. He is one of only two known cases in the world with this diagnosis, and the documentation for the other case stopped at age 1. “We were in complete and utter shock and awe,” remembers Brendan’s mom, Kim.
Kim spent the following year focused on getting Brendan occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and any other interventions he needed to thrive. The effort paid off. “Brendan started talking and hasn’t stopped since,” she laughs. “He’s overcompensated!” When he started preschool the following year in the same class as his younger brother, the teacher asked to move him up to be with kids of his own age. He has remained with his age group ever since.
When it comes to his medical care, there is no road map for Brendan, but his care team at Boston Children’s is comprised of many specialists who keep a close eye on him and treat issues that come up — of which there have been many. Brendan wears double hearing aids for hearing loss, is short in stature, and is often in pain. “It can be frustrating as a parent because I just want to fix it, but I can’t,” says Kim. “But we have always told Brendan that his genetic disorder makes him special. We don’t accept the phrase ‘I can’t.’”
Today, Brendan is thriving and fully immersed in life as a sophomore at Catholic Memorial, an all-boys Catholic school in West Roxbury, Massachusetts — taking honors classes, managing the varsity tennis team, and participating in speech and debate. “Everybody at school knows and loves him,” says Kim. “He has a huge group of boys that look out for him. It’s just a great community.”
Meet Matt: Unstoppable
One month before his 12th birthday, Matt was involved in a head-on car crash while at camp in Maine. His right foot was trapped under the front passenger seat and nearly severed. He was rushed to Maine Medical Center and underwent a below-the-knee amputation.
Melissa lobbied to have Matt transferred. “We wanted Matt at Boston Children’s not only because it was closer to home, but also because it’s Boston Children’s. When he was transferred one week after the accident, it was a gift.”
Meanwhile, Brendan was already there, recovering from a major orthopedic surgery he needed as a result of his genetic condition. The boys became roommates for two nights. Their moms will never forget that time.
“Here were our boys, in the hospital for very different reasons, but both recovering from surgery and on pain medications,” recalls Kim. “Melissa and I spent a lot of time together in that room, worrying about our kids — the ones in the hospital and the ones being cared for at home by grandparents — bouncing our feelings off each other and just trying to manage everything. Being in it together made us feel like, ‘OK, we can do this.’”
Melissa agrees that the support was invaluable. “It was so nice to have someone to talk to. Kim had been through other surgeries and helped give me hope that everything would be OK,” she says.
Matt recovered at home for months while his wound healed. Brendan was in a wheelchair and Skyped into school for two months. During this time, Brendan asked to be hoisted up on stage in his wheelchair at a Boy Scout banquet so he could tell everyone about Matt and ask for their help raising money for his prosthetic. They loved the idea.
Before long, Brendan and his Boy Scout leader were delivering the money to the Freitas home. Without hesitation, Matt asked Brendan in to play video games. “The fundraising and the fact that Matt welcomed Brendan into his house to spend time together shows real character of both boys,” says Kim.
A bond made stronger by a chance reunion
In the years that followed, the two families exchanged Christmas cards and casually stayed in touch. Matt started ninth grade at Catholic Memorial, where unbeknownst to him, Brendan was a seventh-grader. When he walked over to the middle school for his first Mandarin class, Matt bumped into Brendan. The boys were elated. “That’s my roommate!” Matt told everyone.
Now a senior, Matt is a gifted student and captain of the school’s varsity lacrosse and wrestling teams. He was recently accepted to Williams College, where he’ll play lacrosse and study Mandarin in the fall. “Catholic Memorial has been so supportive and done so much for Matt. He is the man he is today because of that school,” says Melissa.
Much like every other challenge in his life, Matt is ready to get started. “His experience made him realize that things can change in a split second,” says Melissa. “He embraces every moment and every opportunity and doesn’t back down from much of anything. He’s ready for college. I’d like to hold on to him a little longer, but I’ve been given limited visitation rights,” she laughs.
As for Brendan, he’ll continue at Catholic Memorial accompanied by his large group of friends and fans and his younger brother, Sean. “He’ll do great, just like his role model, Matt,” says Kim. “Matt’s proven that no matter what you have going on, you just do the best you can. He had a devastating traumatic injury and learned how to move on. It gives us hope. There’s always hope.”
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