Pediatric Protagonists: Kids who Persevere in the Face of Adversity

I’m a kleptomaniac. I’m also a writer, but the writing usually comes out best when I steal . . . snippets of conversation, an anecdote told by a friend, an interaction outside my kids’ school. In other words, the stuff of real life.

But sometimes, life throws obstacles that aren’t easily overcome . . . or easy to write about. I’ve learned that lesson from my wife. She’s a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where the stakes are high and kids face issues far more serious than a misplaced notebook.

Take Noah, the main character in Mascot. After a terrible accident, he spends most of the summer in the rehabilitation unit at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Now paraplegic, he’s beginning seventh grade in a wheelchair. Nothing is the way it used to be.

Adjusting isn’t just tough for Noah, either. For most of his classmates, Noah’s disability has become his defining characteristic.

But there’s a reason physicians seek to understand kids as the sum of their experiences, interests, relationships, hopes and fears. In the puzzle of understanding a patient, no one piece of the story explains everything.

A few years ago, I learned this firsthand when Megan, a family friend from England, came to St. Louis Children’s. Megan had spastic cerebral palsy, a condition that limits her mobility. Her only hope was a surgery developed at Children’s and not available in Britain.

Megan stayed for six weeks. Her recovery was a grueling process, and though her mother and grandmother were with her, she was four thousand miles from home, and family and friends. But she was brave and upbeat and resilient, and she had dreams . . . of riding a bicycle unaided, hiking up a mountain, and running.

On YouTube, you can see how successful Megan’s procedure was. But what you don’t see, and I remember well, are the quieter moments. Like her first-ever Thanksgiving with us, a day we were reminded just how much we had to be thankful for. Her mother and grandmother came too, and I was aware of how much this was a family effort, and that her mother had never wavered in her role as parent-caregiver. Halfway through the meal, it snowed, which is unusual for St. Louis in November, but even more unusual in Southern England. It was as if a day as improbable as this deserved to be memorialized.

Though she never let it show, I suspect that Megan, like Noah in Mascot, faced some dark days. I’m sure she wondered if something might go wrong for her along the way. But she persevered. And triumphed.

Noah faces seemingly insurmountable challenges too. At first, the cumulative weight of them seems to crush him. But little by little, he begins to tackle them head on. And in the process, he realizes what perhaps should have been obvious all along: He isn’t carrying the weight alone.

Adversity is easier to manage when shared.


About the author:

Antony John was born in England and raised on a balanced diet of fish and chips and bizarre British comedies. To annoy his parents, he studied classical music at university. Now he writes books instead of music so he can wear sweatpants all day. He lives in St. Louis with his family, who think he’s weird for not liking chocolate. They might be right. Visit him online at www.antonyjohn.net.

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