"The Nutcracker" is a holiday tradition for many, but the heart of Jose Mateo's production in Boston may very well live in one little girl whose journey to the stage began long before the curtain call.
Eva Gambon, a 9-year-old from Rockland, Massachusetts, has spent more time in a hospital room than a backstage dressing room. The ballerina was born with a heart defect called "Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome."
"It's like when the left side of your heart isn't really there so they have to like give you one - like the doctors," Gambon said.
After five open heart surgeries, including one rare procedure only a handful of patients in the world have had, Gambon's heart started to grow and so too did her strength to perform.
"I can't even explain it," Gambon said. "It's just amazing. Like, they saved my life, and I don't know how to repay them."
Her way of repaying them happened Sunday inside the Strand Theatre in Dorchester. Sitting in the front row was one of Gambon's doctors who helped save her.
"When she asked me I was honored. I said there's no way I'm going to miss this," Dr. Matthew Hjort of South Shore Medical Center said. "It's a miracle she is alive really."
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Before she left, Gambon hugged her doctor to say thank you not just for the dancing, but also for the feeling she gets in her heart every time she performs. She says it is a reminder that what they did is working.
Jose Mateo's production of "The Nutcracker" runs at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester through Dec. 18.