Ottumwa, IA

Mason Shepherd is a curious 8-year-old who spends his time playing with his younger brothers, Parker and Cooper, building LEGOs®, and conducting experiments in his basement “laboratory.”

When talking to Mason, his bright personality overshadows his small stature.

Before Mason was born, his mother, Cindy, went in for her 20-week ultrasound. Doctors discovered that her son had stopped growing and referred her to a specialist in Des Moines, who diagnosed baby Mason with intrauterine growth retardation—poor growth while in the womb.

At 34 weeks, Cindy’s doctors decided that a Cesarean section was the best option for Mason’s health.

In the days after he was born, Mason still was not growing or gaining weight as expected. The Shepherds were transferred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for genetic testing, and Mason was diagnosed with Russell-Silver syndrome, a disorder characterized by slow growth before and after birth.

Since his diagnosis, pediatric endocrinologist Liuska Pesce, MD, has played an important role in Mason’s care.

“Dr. Pesce’s been wonderful,” says Cindy. “She is very compassionate and kind. When she comes in during our visits, she talks with Mason about what’s been going on in his life, what’s going on at school, how his brothers are. You can tell she really cares.”

In order to lessen the impact the disorder will have on Mason’s size in the future, Pesce presented the option of growth hormone injections.

The decision to start hormone injections was difficult for Cindy and Josh, Mason’s father.

“If God made him this way, do we want to change anything?” Cindy asks.

But after almost three years of contemplating treatment options, the Shepherds decided to begin growth hormone treatment. They wanted to give their son a chance at the childhood they enjoyed.

“It’s not something that’s going to impede on his life,” says Cindy. “He’ll be able to continue to do the typical things that kids his age do.”

Mason takes his hormone injections every night, and he’s learning to do so on his own. This long-term treatment will be part of his daily routine through puberty.

When Mason comes to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital for appointments, his doctors perform height, weight, and body mass index checks, as well as blood draws and X-rays to track his progress.

“He’ll probably never be average height, but with the treatment he will be a lot closer to normal male height when he becomes an adult,” says Cindy. “The impact that it’s having on him now, though, we can see he’s a more confident child.”

Cindy is thankful for the personalized care Mason’s medical team has shown her family.

“To the doctors, nurses, and staff at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, it’s hard to put into words the appreciation I have for the work that you do every day,” says Cindy. “We feel like you are completely centered on our family. It’s been amazing to work with such a caring staff, and we appreciate the support that we’ve been given.”

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