North English, Iowa

Mason Allen likes playing Wii™, riding in his toy jeep, and swimming in the backyard pool with his big sister. Looking at him, it’s hard to believe he spent his first 10 weeks receiving life-saving care at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Transferred from a nearby community hospital with breathing problems, he was diagnosed with laryngeal web when he was just 2 days old. This condition, where a thin flap of skin grew over his vocal cords and constricted his airway to the diameter of a pencil lead, was just the first in a series of health issues. A pediatric surgeon implanted a tracheotomy tube in his neck to help his breathing. Soon after that, doctors diagnosed Mason with a ventricular septal defect, a hole in the lower chambers of his heart.

At 5 weeks old, he had a surgical procedure to stop gastrointestinal reflux disease. At the time, he was the smallest child in the world to have the procedure performed robotically. At 6 weeks of age, he had surgery to close the hole in his heart; and at 8 weeks old, a pacemaker was installed to regulate his heart rate.

It wasn’t until he was almost 10 months old that his UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital surgeon removed the webbing in his esophagus and rebuilt his airway by supporting it with one of his floating ribs. His tracheostomy tube was removed after he turned 1 year old, and his parents worked with therapists to teach him to talk and eat by mouth.

His mother, Shelly Allen, said that even though Mason has endured 14 surgeries and countless medical and dental procedures, he is a brave and resilient little boy with a will to live. The whole family is very grateful for UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital’s knowledgeable and caring staff. “Thank you just doesn’t say enough,” Shelly says.

Shelly and Chad Allen say their family is lucky to live so close to Iowa City.

While Mason is thriving and on-track developmentally, he has to return regularly to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for follow-up care. He especially enjoys when a child life specialist can stay with him, to help distract him from the discomfort and pain of some of his procedures. The Child Life program at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital is the oldest in Iowa and seeks to normalize the hospital experience for children by offering developmental play experiences. Sometimes that means just giving the children a chance to play. At other times, this includes one-on-one sessions that focus on helping children understand illness, even medical play that familiarizes them with upcoming procedures.

Mason is “the friendliest guy you will ever meet. Wherever we go, he talks to people, smiles, gives high-fives, and thumbs up,” Shelly says. Because of his pacemaker, Mason will never be able to play a contact sport like football. But that doesn’t stop him from being active.. “Mason is strong and resilient,” Shelly says.


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