Anna was just three days old when a well baby checkup changed her life forever. A louder than normal heart murmur prompted her pediatrician to suggest that her parents, Wade and Sharon, check her into the hospital for some more tests. Results of an MRI showed a rare brain disorder called Vein of Galen Malformation (VOGM), which also caused an enlarged heart. Within hours, Wade and Sharon had their bags packed and were on their way to Phoenix where specialists performed multiple procedures on Anna’s brain when she was just five, six and 10 days old. She returned to Phoenix when she was one for more procedures.
In January 2007, when Anna was two and a half, she began having seizures, though MRI and CT scans showed no change or additional abnormality in her brain. It was on Anna’s third birthday in September that she had a seizure lasting 45 minutes. A subsequent MRI revealed a brain tumor. Two days later, doctors removed the tumor and Anna started six weeks radiation and almost one year of intense chemotherapy.
Anna’s balance and coordination were compromised when doctors removed the brain tumor and chemotherapy left her with a profound hearing loss. She has been coming to Heartspring since March 2009, receiving physical, occupational and speech therapies, as well as utilizing Heartspring’s audiology and psychology services.
Despite her challenges, Anna comes to Heartspring with a smile on her face and energy that is contagious. “Each day of therapy, she comes with a great attitude and ends by smiling and saying, ‘Thanks for playing with me, Molly!’ on her way out the door,” said Molly Murphy, Anna’s speech-language pathologist. “It is this attitude that will help her overcome any hurdles she may face in the future.”
One of Anna’s greatest triumphs has come during physical therapy with Shannon Ratermann. Prior to Anna’s brain tumor diagnosis, her preschool teacher had written a goal for Anna to jump with both feet, something she was unable to do. A few months ago while working with Shannon during a physical therapy session, Anna was able to jump with both feet off the ground at the same time. “This may sound really trivial,” said Sharon, “but to Anna, it means that she won’t have to just watch other kids play hopscotch and jump rope at recess; she will be able to join in. It is all of the little victories that mean so much to her life.”
Anna’s parents think highly of her therapists. “(They are) absolutely wonderful,” said Sharon. “They have a wide range of abilities when it comes to working with different personalities and therapeutic needs.”
With the help of Heartspring and the love and encouragement from her family, Anna might just one day fulfill her dream of being a doctor. “I keep telling her that she can do anything that she wants, she just has to work really hard and study,” said Sharon. “I realize that her path is not going to be easy, no matter what she chooses, our goal is to help her find the resources to succeed at whatever she wants to do in life.”
Anna has been through much in her short life, but she never complains. “I think we can all learn a lot from a young child who has had so many battles and still loves every minute of her life,” said Sharon.