“I remember the phone call after Lauren’s fall,” says Dr. Jordan Busch. “My wife said, ‘Lauren fell, and her vertebra is broken, but that’s not the bad news.’” A tumor had eaten away at one of the bones in Lauren’s neck and was lodged in their daughter’s cervical spine.
“I can still see the slow-motion tape in my head,” recalls Dr. Nancy Corliss, Lauren’s mother. “It looked like a routine soccer trip, and I did the three-second count every mother does.”
Nancy started running when she got to three. Lauren, then 12, and a star forward for a JBSC U12 team, was strapped onto a backboard and rushed to Morton Hospital in Taunton, Massachusetts.
This type of tumor is one in 250,000. To find any surgeon with the right experience and expertise is one thing, and to find a pair who had more experience than anyone else was incredibly fortunate. ~ Dr. Jordan Busch
After Lauren’s CT scan showed a tumor in her spine, her emergency physician told Jordan and Nancy, “Boston Children’s Hospital is the best place for your daughter.”
Lauren endured a second painful ambulance ride to Boston Children’s and then an MRI scan, which confirmed the tumor.
As her parents and doctors conferred, Lauren formed her goal — returning to the soccer field. She told her mother she needed a replacement for her lucky #28 soccer jersey. (Her jersey had to be cut off after the injury.)
Though Nancy gently explained the jersey wasn’t the top concern, Lauren remained adamant. After Nancy texted Lauren’s coach James Bede with an update on her condition, he had a new jersey made and delivered it to Lauren.
“I knew he believed in me,” says Lauren.
Like many moms, Brenda Jackson worried about the transition to middle school for her son Sam. He had had mysterious wetting accidents ever since potty training. Doctors had diagnosed an overactive bladder and tried everything — behavioral interventions, medications and dietary changes.
Nothing worked. Fortunately, Sam attended a small Montessori school where all the kids knew and accepted each other.
But as he was getting ready for fifth grade, the specter of middle school, and the teasing that comes with early adolescence, loomed. “That’s a new ball game,” says his Brenda. “We knew we had to take care of this.”
Because Sam also had constipation, the urologist at his Midwestern children’s hospital sent him to a gastroenterologist to see if addressing it would reduce Sam’s wetting accidents. The urologist put him on a medication meant to stop the spasms that were making him lose bladder control. It didn’t work.
It was such a relief to know that Sam was able to have a less invasive procedure. Boston Children’s made a very stressful process easier and had the confidence to take care of it.
Sam’s doctors and parents continued to search for answers. A dimple on the boy’s lower back suggested something wrong with his spinal cord, so Sam was referred for an MRI of his spine.
“We got a call the next morning that Sam had a thoracic syrinx [a collection of fluid inside the spinal cord’s central canal] and that we needed to see a neurosurgeon,” says Brenda. “The neurosurgeon at our hospital had never seen one.”
The local radiologist and neurosurgeon thought the fluid was compressing the nerves that controlled Sam’s urinary tract.
After two more MRIs, the doctors recommended surgery for the syrinx. It would involve inserting a shunt (tube) inside Sam’s spinal cord to drain the fluid into his abdomen — a highly invasive operation that carries a risk of causing paralysis. Plus, shunts often fail over time and have to be replaced.
Something didn’t ring true for Brenda. Her skepticism grew. She researched Sam’s condition and found few pediatric hospitals had published anything about it. One of those that did was Boston Children’s Hospital.
Maddie, our third child of four and our smallest, always seemed to be fighting off some type of illness. When she hit puberty, her health struggles seemed to get worse. I kept telling my husband and Maddie’s primary care physician something was not right, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Maddie knew, too. She had hand tremors, her grades started to slip, and my otherwise well-liked, social daughter was becoming very withdrawn. A sleepover with a friend was not even worth it for her — it would sap her energy and set her back a few days in school. She spent most of her time at home, lying in bed, trying to cope with her headaches and fatigue. There were mornings before school that she’d make it to the top of the stairs with her backpack on and then just lie down on the floor. She would leave for school dragging, and I would just sob.
Nearly every morning in the quiet, early light, 19-month-old Owen Sheridan awakens not with a cry but with a steady, strong-willed yell, just to tell his parents he’s ready to begin the day.
“We will change his diaper and bring him into bed with us,” says Owen’s mom Jen Sheridan. “He will babble happily. And when he smiles, it is the sweetest thing.”
For the Sheridans, the smile is just one of the many miracles since Owen, the little warrior as they call him, returned home from Boston Children’s Hospital on Jan. 11, 2014.
Born with a rare growth called an encephalocele, Owen was given little chance of survival. During early development, fluid and tissue normally encased in the skull had seeped outwards forming a large mass on top of his head. The growth was so large—more than half his weight—the Sheridans weren’t able to hold him for the first four weeks of life.