(Photo courtesy of Sarah Powling/Lowell Sun)Watch out Bruce Willis. At three months old, Joey Powling Jr. has already out-smirked the actor, and proven braver than any run-of-the-mill action hero.
The photo of the newborn, taken by his mom shortly after open-heart surgery, has become an Internet sensation.
After his uncle posted the picture to the community board, Reddit, baby Joey was crowned "ridiculously good-looking surgery baby" and his adorable mug became a popular meme viewed by over 1 million people.
"What a legend," writes one fan of the photo. Other awesomely accurate feedback from commenters include: "A baby Bruce Willis" and "That baby is manlier than me."
But for Joey's family, the photo is more than an Internet ogling break. In an essay published in the Lowell Sun on Monday, Joey's great-uncle, Dan Phelps, explains the serious side to the smirking baby photo.
"Joey Powling Jr. was born in July with a condition known as Tetralogy of Fallot, or TOF, which is, basically, a hole in the heart (although there is more to it than that) …Luckily, Joey was diagnosed while my niece, Sarah Powling of Dracut, was pregnant, and a plan was put in place to deal with the problem. That plan included open-heart surgery when he was three months old."
The photo was taken on October 30, five days after his successful surgery at Boston Children's Hospital, where pediatric cardiologists specialize in treating the rare disease.
Mom photographs flying baby
"I took that photo because it was the first time they uncovered the whole scar," Joey's mom, Sarah, explains. "Joe was playing with him, and I just wanted to get a picture of the scar, and he started smiling."
Soon after capturing a surprisingly collected Joey, Sarah's brother, Matt Tassone, posted the photo on Reddit with the caption: "My three-month-old nephew just had open heart surgery. Chicks dig scars, right?" The image became so popular it leapfrogged from the site's homepage, to Facebook, to Quickmeme, to Imagur and handful of other web hosts where doting commenters flocked.
"Sarah was at first a little taken aback by the attention Joey received online, but she and [her husband] Joe are now tickled by it," writes Phelps. Now they're hoping the attention their son is getting will raise awareness about TOF treatments.
About 2 in 10,000 children are affected by the disease. Most require surgery in the first six months of their life, followed by lifelong monitoring and medication. Sometimes additional surgeries are required, and the risk of arrhythmias and other heart problems are a constant risk as child develops. But early detection can make all the difference for a child born with TOF. (For more information, check out Boston Children's Hospital's site)
The Powlings are hoping their son's story will raise awareness about the importance of pre-birth diagnosis. Having an immediate treatment plan from Joey's first day of life has been vital to his health. Obviously, the Powlings have a good system in place. Mom and dad take care of the health issues. Joey charms the pants off the world. Done.