Meet Liam

Superhero Chronicles: Liam’s Journey Battling Scoliosis with Creativity and Courage

A pediatrician discovered a curve in Liam’s spine when he was just six months old. His physician concluded that it was nothing to worry about, which seemed like good news to Liam's family at the time. But later, two-year-old Liam underwent another round of X-rays, which revealed the undeniable curve had increased to 30 degrees. He was officially diagnosed with early onset scoliosis, which his physicians believe is linked to a condition Liam was born with called congenital diaphragmatic hernia.

After Liam was diagnosed with scoliosis, his family was referred to a specialist in the Seattle area. The physician explained that they would like to wait until the curve progressed to 35 degrees before beginning any treatment and that Liam's condition would eventually require surgery. Liam’s mom, Sarah, was troubled by the recommendation to wait until the condition worsened instead of addressing it promptly.

“It was all very new to us at the time. We went home feeling like we were just waiting for the inevitable [surgery],” said Sarah. “It seemed unsettling not to try and act on it now.”

A friend recommended that she seek a second opinion from Shriners Children's Portland. There, pediatric orthopedic physician Joseph I. Krajbich, M.D., evaluated Liam's spine and recommended the Mehta-Cotrel casting method, which required Liam to wear a series of corrective casts as he grows. Six-year-old Liam began receiving personalized treatment for early-onset scoliosis at Shriners Children's Portland when he was two years old.

Sarah worried that her son's medical condition would weigh on his happy-go-lucky demeanor, so she found a creative way for Liam to embrace his treatment – by turning his casts into elaborate costumes and staging amazing photo shoots.

From wielding his hammer to summoning lightning as Thor to defending the citizens of Gotham City as Batman, Liam has transformed into some of the most super of superheroes and characters, including Superman, Spider-Man, Buzz Lightyear, and Captain America.

“The casting treatments were a difficult pill to swallow as a parent. You think about the things your child will be missing out on because of the cast,” said Sarah, who is a professional photographer based in Puyallup, Washington. “Ultimately, the big picture becomes the most important thing, and knowing you are doing everything possible to give your child the best possible outcome overpowers the small things you may miss.”

As part of Liam's current treatment plan, Liam has moved from casts to braces. Todd DeWees, POPS manager at Shriners Children’s Portland, fits him for a new brace every nine to twelve months, and every time he gets a new brace, the transformation begins. Using a variety of outdoor vinyl materials to design the costumes, Sarah creates the ensemble needed for Liam to save the world. “Todd has definitely figured out what we’re up to,” said Sarah. “Every time Liam gets a new brace, Todd asks ‘What color do you need this time?’”

“Liam loves the photoshoots. It is the highlight of our week. We have turned them into adventures each time. It is always an absolute blast for him,” said Sarah. “Liam has a long road ahead of him. I’m trying to teach him that through hard times come good moments – that if you look hard enough at the hard road in front of you, you will see a positive path. My hope is that when he looks back at this time in his life, it will make him smile.”

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