When Shawn was 4 years old, he was suffering from increasing lethargy, deteriorating eyesight and severe headaches that were beyond what his body could endure. After several months of seeing an ophthalmologist, his headaches became so intense they were causing him to vomit from the pain. On October 13, 1998, a visit to a local walk-in clinic led to a CAT scan which revealed our worst fear: he had what appeared to be an abnormality in his brain. Shawn's Story is part of the Children's Hospital Story.
We were directed to immediately take Shawn to Children's Hospital, where an MRI confirmed the presence of a large brain tumor in the middle of his head. The tumor had been blocking off the circulation of the brain fluid, resulting in excessive pressure on the brain, which was the cause of his excruciating headaches. The initial thought was that the tumor was the cause of his loss of eyesight, as it was located in the optic chiasm, where the signal from the eyes to the brain passes through.
When first arriving at Children's, a friendly, caring group of people was there to take Shawn in and comfort him and tend to his every need. This caring was not limited to Shawn. Knowing the turmoil parents can be in when undergoing such a sudden life-changing experience, they were there for us too, giving hope, strength, and a shoulder to cry on. We were allowed to stay by Shawn's side and were made as comfortable as possible at all times. The doctors and nurses were very honest and upfront about Shawn's condition and always took the extra time to explain any diagnosis or procedure in terms that we would be sure to understand.
Within a few days of arriving at Children's, Shawn had his first surgery to insert a shunt in his skull to relieve the pressure on his brain. The nurses were at our side when Shawn was gently put to sleep; they comforted us and told us that he was safe and in good hands. Although eight years have passed since that first surgery, the memory of watching Shawn being wheeled off to surgery and the feeling of not knowing what was to come is as fresh as if it were yesterday.
The shunt was successful, but the pressure was so extreme, another shunt had to be inserted shortly after. What an amazing change in Shawn's personality in those first few days - he had been in so much pain from the pressure on his brain that it was the cause of his lethargy. His headaches were gone and a new energized child emerged. We were so thrilled with the immediate changes!
A few weeks passed to allow the swelling, caused by the pressure he had on his brain, to stabilize. A craniotomy was scheduled to explore the possibility of removing the tumor. It was a terrifying ordeal for us to see him taken into a surgery that could take his life, but we were comforted again by the compassionate staff. We were provided a pager that would notify us whenever the doctors had an update for us during the eight-hour surgery.
The surgery was unsuccessful; the expert staff at Children's felt it was much too delicate and dangerous to try and remove the tumor because it was wrapped around Shawn's optic nerves. The good news was that a biopsy revealed the tumor to be benign. We all agreed to fight the tumor with chemotherapy instead. During his fight, Shawn lost the remainder of his eyesight in his right eye and 95 percent in his left eye; the tumor had taken his sight and left him blind!
A few more weeks passed to allow Shawn to heal before starting a long regiment of chemo that lasted 13 months. A Port-a-Cath was surgically inserted in his chest for a direct path into Shawn's little body, as the chemo was much too harsh for the veins in his arms to handle week after week. The chemotherapy left Shawn nearly bald, and physically and mentally exhausted. We would sit at his side helplessly trying to comfort him and give him strength when he was so weak from his fight.
While Shawn was going through treatment, the staff at Children's once again not only tended to Shawn's needs, but always made sure that none of our needs went unnoticed. Every Wednesday while Shawn was in for his chemo treatment, Debra, a hospital social worker, found us to check on any concerns we had regarding issues we now encountered with Shawn's vision loss, such as adaptive devices and schooling. Shawn's brother Chris was always made to feel welcome while he was visiting Shawn at the hospital, as well.
On the 13th month of his treatment, the doctors at Children's told us they felt the tumor was under control; if the next MRI showed no additional growth, he would be finished with his treatment. A few days before Christmas, Shawn had his last treatment. The doctors called the day before Christmas with the MRI report and gave us the best Christmas gift ever: Shawn was done with chemo. Routine MRIs would be required in the future to monitor the tumor, but it was under control.
In the winter of 1999, Shawn began wrestling, a very demanding sport but also one sport that Shawn could do even with his loss of vision. Although he was one of only a few kids in the state that wrestled with a handicap, let alone a brain tumor and shunts, he soon became an inspiration and showed people that a huge heart and dedication could overcome anything. In 2002 he finished second in the state, and hungry for more, in 2004, his fourth year of wrestling, he won his first USA Freestyle State Championship.
Three days after Shawn won the championship, he severely broke his arm in two places while preparing for another huge tournament. When the medics asked Shawn how he was doing, obviously in pain but without a tear in his eye, he said, "I'm fine; it's not like it's brain surgery. I'll be back tomorrow."
After months of healing, Shawn came back with a vengeance in 2005, winning the gold medal in his first tournament back from his injury. Even more amazing was that he followed his 2004 championship with a second consecutive state championship in 2005.
At only 11 years old now, Shawn is undefeated in the 2005/2006 season and on track to win his third USA Washington State Wrestling Championship, which would result in him being inducted into the Legends of Washington Wrestling.