Family continues to give back to Cleveland Clinic for Thanksgiving years after life-saving surgery

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CLEVELAND (WJW)– Nearly every year since his newborn daughter was hospitalized and in need of emergency surgery, a local restaurateur has returned to the hospital to make everyone Thanksgiving dinner.

“Just my way to give back to the Cleveland Clinic for saving my daughter’s life,” said Jay Leitson, owner of the local bistros Cafe 56 and 56 Kitchen.

This year, his daughter Rachael Leitson flew into town from New York on her birthday to help her dad, because it was 28 years ago to the day Tuesday that she was born with a rare congenital heart defect.

“Her arteries were reversed and her body wasn’t getting any oxidized blood,” Jay said. “So they had to put the arteries back together
and the heart’s the size of a walnut, so it’s amazing they could do such a thing.”

The procedure was innovative and groundbreaking at the time. Rachael was one of the first in the country to undergo the life-saving operation.

Jay vowed to never forget it, and also couldn’t shake what it felt like to be at a hospital on a holiday.

“Spending Thanksgiving here that year, I realized there’s a need to give back to the Cleveland Clinic and I’m a caterer so what better way to do it,” Jay said.

Volunteers from nearly every department at the hospital helped serve the meals to more than 500 people, including all of the pediatric patients, their families and all of the staff members working Tuesday night.

“What better way to spend your birthday than to give back to the hospital that truly saved my life,” Rachael said.

Rachael’s corrective surgery has allowed her to live a normal life, and is now considered common, but it also helped the hospital grow.
The hospital’s now No. 1 in the state and nationally recognized for its congenital heart disease program and pediatric cardiology department, said Dr. Karen Murray, chair of Cleveland Clinic Children’s.

However, its their concern for patients and their families that means the most to families like Rachael’s, and why they say they will keep coming back and cooking up Thanksgiving dinner every year.

“We’re here to support them. And you’ll be in my thoughts and prayers no matter what, you know, all these little kids will always share a place in my heart,” Rachael said.

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