Before Owen Sheridan was born at Johnstown’s Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center, his parents were told the chance of his survival was bleak.
But five weeks ago, infant Owen was born, although it was with a nearly seven-pound growth on his head.
The growth, a neural tube defect called an encephalocele, caused a portion of his brain to grow outside of his skull.
After Owen was born, doctors at Conemaugh said they were unable to perform the necessary lifesaving surgery.
Owen’s parents, Jen and Kevin Sheridan of Upper Yoder Township, were forced to call several hospitals before they found a surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital willing to perform the surgery.
“They worked a miracle on our child,” Kevin said. “They did what no other hospital that we could contact was willing to do.”
Owen isn’t out of the woods.
“They told us that Owen has a long road ahead of him, but the fact that he is alive is enough for us right now,” Kevin said.
Fighting for life
The family returned home Sunday and is settling into a routine.
The Sheridans knew of Owen’s problem as early as 14 weeks into the pregnancy.
Multiple doctors told them the baby had little chance of surviving and offered to terminate the pregnancy.
But Jen would not hear of it, telling her husband “that’s our son, and if we as parents don’t fight for our son’s life, who would?”
“There is no scientific explanation for his survival,” Kevin said.
Doctors had little hope. The Sheridans were told that mostly like Owen would only take a few breaths after being born and succumb in the first few seconds.
“We opted to deliver the baby at Conemaugh because we were expecting the worst and we would be close to family and friends,” Kevin said.
What happened surprised everyone.
“He was crying and breathing on his own,” Kevin said.
“We were taking pictures and his eyes were following the movements in the room and the flashes around him.”
Both parents credit the quick work done by obstetrician Dr. Adib Khouzami and the maternity and neo-natal staffs at Conemaugh for saving Owen.
Owen was delivered by Cesarean section.
Following the delivery, Owen was administered an Apgar test, which is designed to quickly evaluate a newborn’s physical condition and to determine any immediate need for extra medical or emergency care.
“He scored a 9 out of 10, and the assessment score was completely miraculous,” Kevin said.
Doctors in Boston operated on Owen on Jan. 3. He weighed 12 pounds, 5 ounces, but they didn’t know how much of that weight was spinal fluid and brain tissue.
“They drained 2.8 liters of fluid from his head and he is stitched nearly ear to ear following surgery,” Kevin said.
Baby Owen also has a normal sucking reflex which enables him to eat normally.
“He’s eating nonstop and hasn’t missed a meal yet,” Kevin said.
Kevin is a teacher and head football coach at Bishop McCort Catholic High School.
D.A. Gardill, acting principal at Bishop McCort, said the students have been most supportive of fundraising efforts on behalf of the Sheridan family.
“We have had several activities to help, including a special dress-down day and a collection during the Bishop McCort-Johnstown Trojan basketball game.
“Our dress-down days generally generate less than $1,000, but for this effort, we raised a few thousand dollars for the Sheridans,” Gardill said. “Johnstown donated its portion of the game’s 50-50 sale to support the Baby Owen fund.”
Mary Casto of Upper Yoder Township and member of St. Clement Roman Catholic Church in Upper Yoder Township is chairing a benefit spaghetti dinner for the Sheridan family.
“I have been involved in other fundraisers and sometimes it’s like pulling teeth to get volunteers,” Casto said.
“But in this effort, people have been coming out of the woodwork to ask what they can do to help. It seems like everyone wants to do something to help the family.”
The church will conduct the dinner from noon to 5 p.m. Jan. 26 at St. Clement’s social hall.
The menu will include spaghetti and meatballs, tossed salad, garlic stick, a beverage and cake for dessert.
Cost is $7 for adults and $4 for children younger than age 12.
Gardill said anyone who is unable to attend the dinner but would like to donate may send a check to Bishop McCort or St. Clement’s church.
“Just write Baby Owen on the check’s memo line and we will make sure the family gets the money,” Gardill said.
Healing and hope
Owen is healing extremely well, according to his father.
“They are monitoring any fluid buildup, but they don’t foresee the use of a shunt at this time,” Kevin said.
The Sheridans only want to share their story in the hopes that it will help someone else.
“It’s our obligation to give hope to the hopeless,” Kevin said. “We would have cherished a story like ours knowing that there is hope, no matter what the diagnosis.”
For the Sheridans, they want to treasure each moment with Baby Owen and his big sister, Aubrey, who is 18 months old.
Jen Sheridan obviously is emotional when speaking about the ordeal.
“We don’t want to look forward too far, but we are enjoying every moment we can,” she said. ‘We are taking it one day at a time.”
Tom Lavis covers features for the Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter.com/Tom LavisTD.