Mathew Westerman seems like the typical three-year-old little boy. Batman is his favorite superhero, he loves to play hide and seek, and is protective of his older sister, Celene.
However, in November 2016 at 18 months of age, Mathew experienced a bout of health issues that would lead to a much larger and more problematic diagnosis.
"Mathew came down with a cold," says Lori Lopez, his grandmother. "He was diagnosed with double-ear infections and then with strep throat a week later. He wasn't eating or drinking and he just wasn't acting 'right.' We took him to the ER."
Mathew was sick the whole month of December and was diagnosed with mono in January. Lori was at home waiting to hear results of labwork when she found Mathew having a seizure.
"We quickly dressed him and he started twitching," she says. "We called 9-1-1 immediately and he had another seizure. He was taken to the ER by ambulance."
Dr. Sandy Seifert, Shannon Pediatrician, was on call when Mathew arrived in the Shannon ER.
"I saw Mathew for the first time in the ER," Dr. Seifert says. "His case was confusing at first. We did bloodwork and the results revealed he was anemic. A head CT revealed blood in his brain and we suspected the anemia was due to this issue. He was stabilized in the ER and from there we determined he needed emergency transport to Cook Children's Medical Center."
During this time, Mathew had also suffered a stroke.
"You never think something like this will happen to your kids," Lori says. "It was frightening."
Upon arrival to Cook Children's, Mathew was seen by multiple pediatric specialists including infectious disease, an intensivist, neurologist, neurosurgeon and a hematologist. The cause of his seizures was undetermined until a week later when Mathew was diagnosed with a clotting disorder called Hereditary Factor 1 Deficiency Disease and Thrombosis of the Superior Sagital Sinus, Transverse Sinus and Internal Jugular Vein.
The disorder caused blood clots to form in Mathew's brain. To make matters worse, his blood vessels had shrunk due to dehydration from all the illness he suffered the month prior.
"Mathew's diagnosis is very rare," Dr. Seifert says. "I've never seen it in all my years of practice. Injury and bleeding in the brain can be detrimental. Mathew began treatment to combat the disorder that included numerous blood draws, transfusion, anticoagulant blood thinner injections and plasma injections. A PICC line was inserted to make the treatment process easier for him. He was also placed on a seizure medication."
After two weeks in the ICU and one week on the pediatric unit, Mathew's condition began improving. But, he was unable to walk and could not be sent home until he was able to do so again.
It was hard for me to understand how a child so little could get so sick, especially with something you couldn't see," Lori says. "We couldn't see the blood clots, the broken veins, the strokes— it was hard. But, Mathew always had a smile no matter what."
Mathew began to walk again and the family was able to come home. Fortunately, he was able to continue receiving his necessary treatment at the Pediatrics Infusion Clinic at the Shannon Women's & Children's Hospital, funded by Children's Miracle Network.
"It was a blessing and a happy moment for all of us to have him back home," Lori says. "He continued blood and plasma infusions once a week. The nurses were great. They were patient and understanding. We needed nurses like that because I just wanted to cry."
Mathew's treatments continued until the blood clots were gone.
"The disorder will be with him for life and we keep a close eye on him for any bruising," Lori says. "He did suffer some brain damage in several areas. The blessing now is he is currently off all his medication and he's walking which is something we weren't sure he would do again."
Mathew's family is grateful they were able to stay close to home for the remainder of his treatment.
"We are taking the opportunity to share his story because Mathew's treatment was able to happen here, at Shannon," Lori says. "If that wasn't a possibility, we would have had to travel to Fort Worth once a week which is pricey and away from our family. I'm glad someone was there for my grandson. They were there to help him and they love their job."
Looking forward, Mathew's prognosis is excellent.
"If you didn't know his history, you would not know he had health issues," Dr. Seifert says. "He no longer needs treatment or medications and is doing really well."
Lori is happy Mathew can get back to the important business of three year old boys—riding his Batmobile and playing outside.
"Mathew is our angel," she says. "I couldn't see my life without him. And, he's brought new life to me. He and his sister are gifts from God and I thank Him every day for the gift He gave us with Mathew."