Abby Shaivitz is a healthy, vivacious 2-and-a-half-year-old who loves painting pictures and watching Elmo. She’s her mother’s hero. She is also a cancer survivor.
Abby’s mother, Norine, had a fairly routine pregnancy. The only concern had been an abnormal result from her alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) screen early in the pregnancy. The genetic test screens for conditions such as Down syndrome and neural tube defects. But follow-up ultrasounds showed no indication of a problem.
“I was really glad that I would be delivering my baby at Seton Northwest,” says Norine. “I knew that Seton Northwest had a good reputation and it comforted me to know that I was in a hospital just in case something went wrong.”
At 37 weeks gestation, Norine went into labor. “I didn’t expect it,” states Norine. “I thought I had a few more days, so I was really nervous. My OB [Dr. Steven Solomon] was on call and he and the Seton Northwest staff really helped me relax. They were attentive, but also calming and very kind.”
Norine labored through the night, and at 7:23 a.m., Abby was born. “Abby was born at shift change, but the nurses refused to leave. It was so touching that they wanted to share in our experience – we weren’t just patients to them,” smiles Norine.
Abby appeared healthy, but upon closer examination, Dr. Solomon and the nurses noticed a bump at the base of Abby’s spine. Abby’s pediatrician called in pediatric surgeon Dr. Robert Schlechter for a consult. Abby had sacrococcygeal teratoma, a tumor on her tailbone. She needed surgery immediately.
“It was such a consolation to know that we were in a Catholic hospital and that there were people praying with us and for us,” recalls Norine. “We were even able to have Abby baptized by the hospital priest before her surgery.”
When she was only five days old, Abby underwent surgery at Children’s Hospital of Austin to remove the tumor, along with her tailbone. The tumor was the size of a deck of cards.
Dr. Schlechter was pleased with the results of the surgery, and Abby’s oncologist, Dr. Don Wells, felt confident that they had removed all of the teratoma.
However, in May 2008, when Abby was only 19 months old, the tumor returned.
Abby underwent three months of chemotherapy at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas. “Everyone at the hospital was awesome. No matter how high up or how low, they all treated Abby with respect. They took really good care of her,” says Norine with a tear.
Before starting treatment, Dr. Schlechter placed a port under Abby’s skin to administer the chemotherapy drugs. To prepare her for the procedure, Child Life Specialist Claudia Hopper used medical play and a doll, known as a shadow buddy, to show Abby what to expect.
“It helped her so much. Claudia was able to help Abby understand what was going to happen,” recalls Norine.
During the three-month treatment, Abby, her mom and her dad, Adam, could often be seen walking the halls of Dell Children’s, with Abby’s IV pole “Stanley” in tow. “Abby always wanted to be out and about – to escape the room if she felt nauseous,” explains Norine. “As we walked the halls, the nurses would talk to us and give Abby high-fives. They were so awesome. They always played with her and made sure she was comfortable before doing anything to her.”
Upon completion of her chemotherapy, Abby was cheered and congratulated with her own Elmo-themed “End of Chemotherapy” party in Dr. Wells’ office. “They gave her an Elmo balloon and made her a poster,” recalls Norine. “They even gave her a trophy from Dell Children’s. It was called a Courage Award.”
Thankfully, the chemotherapy eradicated the tumor and Abby didn’t need surgery. She has been cancer-free since July 2008, but still undergoes routine scans and blood draws. As Norine puts it, they are “regulars” at Dell Children’s.
“Everyone, from the cleaning crew, to the kitchen staff, to the residents, is really friendly. Abby actually looks forward to going to the hospital – not for the medical procedures – but to see the balls in the lobby, the pictures on the walls, the people who wave hello,” adds Norine. “We’re so lucky that God sent us to Dell Children’s. They cared for us in every aspect – physically, emotionally and spiritually.”