DRACUT -- Eight months later, Joey Powling's open-heart surgery scar has nearly disappeared. But the baby Bruce Willis grin has become more pronounced than ever.
Joey became an Internet and TV sensation last October after his uncle, Matt Tassone, posted a photo online of Joey, five days after his open-heart surgery at Children's Hospital, with a large incision down his chest and a smile on his face.
Tassone captioned the photo, "Chicks dig scars, right?" It went viral, drawing more than 1 million Facebook "likes." One commentator dubbed Joey "ridiculously good-looking surgery baby." Another comment called him a "baby Bruce Willis.
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Joey and his parents returned to television on Friday, with the Dracut residents making a guest appearance on FOX25 TV's Morning News ZipTrip to their hometown's Veterans Memorial Park, where Sarah and Joe Powling Sr. gave viewers a health update on their famous son, now 11 months old.
"It's healing unbelievably well," said Joe Powling Sr. on Friday of the large incision the surgeons made in his son's chest on Oct. 25 to treat a condition known as tetralogy of Fallot, or TOF, a rare, complex heart defect that occurs in five of 10,000 babies, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
"It's like someone took a white marker and drew a line on his chest, that's it," said Sarah Powling. "Children's had to go in and patch a hole in his heart and help to get oxygen back to his lungs, but now he's fixed."
There remains an outside chance that doctors may need to do a second open-heart procedure to ensure his heart condition is "completely fixed," or it may not be needed, Joey's parents reported.
"It's a waiting game right now to see if all surgery is complete," said Sarah Powling, "but either way he'll be fine."
Judging by the grin on baby Joey's face, he couldn't agree more.
"He just wanted to eat the microphone while we were being interviewed (on FOX25)," said Sarah Powling, who is encouraging her baby to eat more nutritious foods to speed his recovery.
"At birth, he was in the fourth percentile because of his condition and now he's in the 16th," said Joey's proud mom.
The FOX25 ZipTrip event drew hundreds of Dracut residents to Veterans Memorial Park to watch or participate in some or all of the four-hour broadcast. More than a dozen area businesses set up tents and tables surrounding the outdoor TV set. Representatives of the Dracut Police and Fire Departments appeared on the show, as did Town Manager Dennis Piendak and Selectmen Chairwoman Cathy Richardson, who were interviewed by FOX25 anchor Shannon Mulaire about the town's plans to renovate Town Hall. A pre-recorded Skype interview with Dracut High grad turned Hollywood actor Scott Grimes was included as part of the broadcast.
State Sen. Barry Finegold failed to answer most of the questions posed to him by FOX25 anchor V.B. during the "Dracut Trivia" segment of the broadcast, including failing to fill-in-the-blank with the last word in century-old Shaw Farm's marketing slogan: "If They Say It's Homemade, Ask to See Their Cows." Finegold did correctly answer the question on which hit TV show did Dracut native Scott Grimes have a starring role, as E.R.
At least one World War II veteran who attended the FOX25 broadcast, and who stayed for the duration, was Armand Larmand, 87, a Navy veteran who served aboard the USS Kearsarge during the war, according to son Scott. Scott Larmand, who celebrates his birthday on the first day of summer each year, said it was a gift to be able to spend his 43rd birthday with his dad at the park.
Follow John Collins on Twitter at johncolowellsun.