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Nothing Short of a Miracle

Mother holds child in recovery room.
Andrea and James Irwin while in recovery.

Published on Tuesday, September 21, 2021

By: Andrea Irwin

When we decided to start a family, we had no idea what was in store for us. After not being able to get pregnant on our own, and after a few failed attempts at other procedures, we decided to try IVF, which luckily succeeded in the very first round. 32 weeks later we welcomed our baby boy, James, into the world. We were so happy to finally bring him home after his three-week stay in the NICU. Little did we know what was waiting around the corner for him. Our son, who already had a rough start in life, would soon face a scary brain cancer diagnosis.

Fast forward a couple of years, amid the Covid Pandemic, our whole world was changed!!! We noticed James falling a lot more often, and we knew they weren't the normal 2-year-old toddler falls. He started having some stability issues when he walked or tried to run. Nothing major, just a few wobbles and imbalances. We also noticed his arms and hands shaking a little bit. We had signed him up for swim lessons before any of these symptoms started happening, but we decided to let him go anyway. His swim instructor pointed out that he was swimming differently than other children, and suggested we might want to get him checked out. Along with her input, our own suspicions that something was wrong, and a couple of episodes at home, we decided to make an appointment to see our pediatrician, Dr. Billy Boldon. Dr. Boldon sent us to get some CT scans at our local hospital. The scans showed a large cyst in the center of his brain. Just a few hours later, James was admitted to the ER at Children’s of Mississippi. The longest two hours of our life was spent following the ambulance that carried our little boy to the hospital, thinking to ourselves, “our baby might have brain cancer.”

Kristin Weaver.jpg

MRI scans later revealed it was more than likely a brain tumor instead of a cyst. It was located in a critical area of his brain, possibly attached to the brain stem. After the UMMC Neurosurgery team discussed it, we were given two options: a biopsy of the tumor or brain surgery. So, with the Lord by our side, we decided to go straight to surgery and skip the biopsy. After eight incredibly long hours, the tumor was fully removed by his wonderful neurosurgeon, Dr. Kristin Weaver. It was later diagnosed as a Grade 1 Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma.

In complete shock and disbelief that something like this could be happening to our little boy, we watched as he continued to show major improvements every day during his post-op recovery. Even his doctors and nurses were amazed at how well and how quickly he was improving! God was there opening every door, paving the way for our sweet boy to come out on the other side of this a fighter! We wouldn’t have made it through those long days and nights without Him and the love and prayers we received from family, friends, and the entire medical staff that took care of us. Dr. Weaver performed nothing short of a miracle for us and we will never be able to put into words how grateful and thankful we are to her and the UMMC Neurosurgery team that took care of our son.

A year and a half later, with no physical therapy needed, James is doing incredibly well.  Today, he’s a perfectly happy and healthy three-year-old boy. All of his check-ups and MRI’s have been clear and he walks, talks, and runs like nothing ever happened. He loves playing with Lego blocks, tractors, and trucks but his absolute favorite place to be is outside digging in his sandbox, swinging, or driving the tractor with his daddy. It’s hard to look at him and think “My child had brain cancer,” but with everything he’s been through in his short three years on earth, we believe God must have some pretty big plans for him. We can’t wait to watch those plans unfold.

James and Beckett Irwin

We were blessed with a surprise pregnancy six months after James’s brain surgery. We welcomed his little baby brother, Beckett, into our family a few weeks ago. We love watching James be the best big brother and look forward to seeing them grow up together. He already loves to hold and kiss on his baby brother and tries to share all of his toys with him! None of this would have been possible without the love and care we received at Children’s of Mississippi. 

Our advice to any parents going through a similar situation is this: Don’t Give Up Hope!!! God will give you the hope and strength you need to lean on Him during those hard days. The doctors and nurses are there to help you and your family in any way they can, so don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Dr. Weaver and her team were so thorough in explaining everything that was going on. We received the best possible care during the worst time in our lives and we’ll always be so grateful to everyone at Children’s of Mississippi for helping us bring our little boy home again.