My turn to give back

By Shawn Elizabeth Parnell, MD

Tell us your story.

My name is Dr. Shawn Parnell. I am a physician in training here at Children's Hospital in the radiology department. When I start as an attending physician here in August 2007, I will be fulfilling a dream that started over thirty years ago.

You see, I was a patient at a Children's Hospital in Miami, Florida when I was less than one year old. As my mother tells the story, I was born with an unusual rash on the skin of my arms, legs and trunk. First it was red, then crusty with scabs. Then it turned into dark swirls. My general pediatrician did not know what was wrong with me. Then, at ten months of age, I started to have trouble keeping my balance and my mom noticed that I couldn't track objects placed in front of my left eye. It turns out that I had a detached retina and had become blind in my eye. Only after taking me to a dedicated children's hospital did my parents discover the cause of my problems: a rare syndrome called incontinentia pigmenti (literally, "uncontrollable pigment"). At the time, there were only 200 reported cases in the world.

Many children with my condition have mental retardation and seizures; I am fortunate to have been spared those consequences. On the other hand, only a small percentage of people with IP have retinal detachment. I also have multiple missing teeth, bald patches on my head and small, weak muscles in my left leg related to IP.

Throughout my childhood, I visited many specialists at the University of Florida Teaching Hospital to follow my condition and to fit me with a prosthesis for my eye so I could look like other children at school. I would often look around the hospital and hope that one day I could be like the doctors that were helping me.

So after years and years of training, it is finally my turn to give back. As I read x-rays, ultrasounds, CT and MRI scans, I try to fit together the pieces of other children's unsolved puzzles- to unravel the conditions that bring so many families to our medical center.

What does Children's mean to you, your child and your family?

Children's is not only the place I work and train, but also where I have brought my children for their special medical needs.