Paula Shaner-McDermott's voice still cracks when she talks about the day in 2010 when Vilmarie Rodriguez, M.D., walked into her son Owen's room on the Saint Marys campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital and sat down beside her. In the doorway, just as they had for some time now, stood about 20 other doctors of various specialties, as everyone continued their search for answers in what had been keeping young Owen in that hospital bed for so long.
"She sat down next to me on the bed, hugged me, and said, 'Everybody in this room loves you two. We are going to figure out what's going on, and you are not leaving here until we do,'" Paula says. "When she said that, some of the other doctors had to leave the room because they were crying."
It was another twist and turn on a roller-coaster ride of emotion that began around Owen's first birthday. "When he was 12 months old, we brought him to his one-year wellness checkup with our local pediatrician in Owatonna (Minnesota)," Paula says. "They did a complete blood test, and the short of that is that his platelets came back low." Doctors initially thought it might be the result of a virus, but more tests at Mayo Clinic in Rochester ultimately revealed that young Owen had a rare bone marrow disease called myelodysplastic syndrome and Monosomy 7, "a chromosome defect associated with acute leukemia." The only treatment was a bone marrow transplant. "We went through chemo and radiation for seven days and had the transplant on May 22, 2010," Paula says.
The four years since Owen's transplant haven't been without their ups and downs, but Paula says the family has been finding the support they need through an organization called Brighter Tomorrows, a support group in Rochester "founded by families who have faced childhood cancer themselves." Back in July, the group organized something Paula says her family had needed for some time -- a chance to get away from the financial and emotional worries of Owen's treatments by spending a day at the ballpark watching the Minnesota Twins. "This whole ordeal has obviously put financial burdens on our family, so it was nice to be able to drive to the Ronald McDonald House, get on a bus and do something like that for a day," she says. "Owen had so much fun."
He wasn't alone. We're told the Twins donated 110 tickets and the group used almost every one, taking 27 families to the Sunday afternoon game. The event was jointly sponsored by Brighter Tomorrows and the Canan family in memory of their son, Will, who we've written about here before. "It was just a fun, carefree day," Paula says. (If only the Twins had won … )
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