When Shawn was born, his grandmother Shirley remembers that it was hard to focus on him when she went to see him in the nursery. She learned later that happened because low blood oxygen levels made his skin appear very blue.
Shawn was born with a form of leukemia more commonly seen in adults and after his birth immediately moved to Texas Children’s Hospital neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for treatment. His chemotherapy regimen began his second day on earth and continued for the next one and a half years.
“His white cell count was so high it was easy to diagnose,” said his physician, Dr. ZoAnn Dreyer. “It’s very rare to be born with Shawn’s disease, which was AML or acute myeloid leukemia. Only a handful of children around the country are born with leukemia every year and NICU certainly isn’t where we normally administer chemotherapy.”
Despite the severity of his illness and his aggressive treatments, pictures from his early childhood show a happy, healthy-looking boy, not one sick from chemotherapy or pain.
“He never looked sick,” said Brenda, his mother. “He always looked like a regular kid. Most of the time he was a very happy baby. I knew he would get well.”
After the chemotherapy, frequent doctor visits and a comprehensive medication regime, Shawn was cured, started nursery school, and his mom went back to work.
Now, Shawn excels in school and doesn’t talk much until you ask about his dirt bike and riding with his dad. He’s also busy with his dog and Nintendo®. He has nothing to say about his treatment since it ended before he turned 3.
His mother mainly remembers the extraordinary help that the NICU nurses gave her, her strong reliance on faith, family and friends, and her absolute certainty that Shawn would get well and thrive.
Dreyer, now director of the long-term survivors clinic at Texas Children’s, sees Shawn once a year to monitor his health for any late-effects from his chemotherapy. Although he has some minor heart problems as a result of his early illness, his mother and Dreyer agree that Shawn the miracle baby, remarkably, has become a regular kid.