It took a miscarriage and several years for Shyla and Brad Maisel to finally start a family. So, it's no surprise their only child Avery is their whole world.
But, this little girl has been through a lot.
She was nearly scalped by a freak accident in December 2008 while visiting her grandparents in East Texas. However, as her father recalls, that wasn't even close to what almost took her life.
"I get a phone call and the cell phone reception is lousy," Brad said, remembering the fear of that day. "All we heard was, 'Avery. Airplane crash. Come now.' Her head had been filleted open like a pork chop; she was cut from side to side on her forehead; she had friction burns on her back; 48 stitches; both eyes were black; she was beat up, bruised. Out of all that, all we could find was one drop of blood on her clothing."
Years later, the reminder of that accident etched across Avery's forehead, continues to fade.
But it's the story behind another scar that brought the Maisel's to the life-saving care of the Children's Hospital at UMC.
"We just didn't feel right about it," Shyla said, "and Avery told me she felt like something was really wrong."
Avery was experiencing days of excruciating headaches and throwing up. Her family doctor thought the young girl had a stomach bug, but it continued for months, until one night, when Avery's pain was unbearable.
"She got to feeling really bad again," Shyla said, "and she woke me up at 3 o'clock in the morning and said, 'Mommy my headache is worse than it has ever been, and I've been throwing up.' So, we took her to UMC. We got there probably 4 or 4:30 in the morning; by 9 a.m. they came in and took Avery by the hand and told her that they found a mass. At 4 o'clock that afternoon she was in surgery."
Surgeons removed a tumor the size of a tennis ball from the base of Avery's brain on top of her spine.
What they heard next would change their lives forever.
"They came back that day and said it was cancer," Avery said, as tears streamed down her face.
"Cancer just evokes so much," Shyla said. "As a parent, you feel so helpless. You automatically start imagining your child without hair, your child being sick. You're just thrown in the middle of this whirlwind and you just can't stop it."
And like that whirlwind, the battle began. Avery's aggressive form of malignant brain cancer called for immediate action. Twenty one days after her tumor was removed, doctors started chemo and radiation therapy.
The treatment to destroy the cancer began to take a toll on her little body. She was weak, her muscles were deteriorating, her rosy, apple cheeks began to lose their shape and her beautiful thick hair began to fall out.
"That was very, very hard for me from the beginning," Shyla said. "That was one of the hardest things for me to picture in my mind. It was the way Avery handled it that made it okay. She said, 'Mom, I want Dad to do it.' We got home that afternoon and I didn't say anything – I was kind of hoping it was going to go away, but the very first thing she said was, 'Dad, are you ready to shave my head?' And he did.
It was hard, and she looked at herself in the mirror and she cried. You know, we talked for a long time about actually experiencing and getting to know what true beauty is. I think I really got that for the first time in my life, and I think she was more beautiful to me that day than she had ever been."
While facing her own struggles, this only child, so wise beyond her 11 years, felt she was a burden to her parents. So, one night she asked God to end their pain.
"I said, 'God, please just take me from this life,'" Avery said. "And He didn't. He knew what was best for me. He gave me purpose."
And there was a better plan. Almost a year to the day after Avery was diagnosed with brain cancer, just in time for her 12th birthday, she was cancer free.
Something the Maisel's said wouldn't be possible without the care of their favorite doctor and everyone else at the Children's Hospital at UMC.
"That's one thing I appreciated so much about our care at UMC," Shyla said, "those doctors, particularly Dr. Al, and those nurses on the (pediatric) floor, they always took the time to make sure we understood."
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