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
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 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 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 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 UI Child Life Program at UI 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
Mason is excited about kindergarten
this fall at English Valleys Elementary School.
He is especially happy to be with his big
sister, Aliana, who is in third grade. "He is the
friendliest guy you will ever meet. Wherever
we go he talks to people, smiles, gives highfives,
and a 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 and being a Hawkeye fan. "Mason is
strong and resilient, just like the Hawkeyes,"