By UNIVERSITY OF IOWA STEAD FAMILY CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Since the day he was born, Mason Gonzalez (Jesup, Iowa) has had a smile that could brighten anyone’s day.
“Mason was an extremely happy, joyful baby. We felt like we had the best kid in the world because he never cried,” says his mother, Amy.
At first, baby Mason was hitting his developmental milestones. But at around 6 months old, he couldn’t sit up on his own and was experiencing feeding issues. His parents took him to a local primary care doctor, who suggested physical therapy.
Then, when Mason was around 1 year old, Mason had his first seizure.
“It was a huge, grand mal seizure,” says Amy. “My husband went to pick him up and (Mason) just went limp in his arms and started seizing.”
“I saw his eyes roll back and he stopped breathing,” adds his father, Jesus. “We panicked and called the ambulance.”
Once at the local hospital, Amy and Jesus were given a checklist of things Mason should’ve been able to do at his age.
“Out of about 25 things, he could only do about three or four,” remembers Amy.
Due to his seizure and developmental delays, Mason was referred to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital for testing with pediatric neurologists.
“The amount of knowledge the doctors had, how they made us feel welcomed…it made us feel confident that coming here was a great decision,” says Jesus.
During his second hospital visit, Mason was being extremely giggly and social with his neurologist.
“(His doctor) asked, ‘Is he always that way?’ We said, ‘yes,'” remembers Amy. “She looked at his hand and said, ‘Sometimes, when you have something neurologically going on, the lines on your palm can be different.’ She decided to test for Angelman syndrome, and that’s what it came back with.”
Angelman syndrome is a rare neurogenetic disorder that affects the nervous system and is characterized by frequent laughter and an excitable personality. Along with seizures, Mason experiences walking and balance issues, a sleep disorder, and is unable to speak.
“It was heartbreaking. Our dreams were crushed,” says Amy.
“You have parents that get annoyed because their kid talks too much or is too loud,” adds Jesus. “I would do anything just to hear Mason call me ‘Dad.'”
Mason has undergone weekly therapy since his diagnosis. He started walking around age 4, and since then he’s shown his family that he’s unstoppable. Mason uses an assistive device to communicate, enjoys riding his adaptive bicycle, and goes to school with his friends.
“We’re in such an amazing place now, watching our son grow and (seeing) what he can achieve. I feel like we are able to have real hope for our son,” says Amy.
The Gonzalez family is grateful for the support they’ve received from Mason’s UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital care team.
“When we were first diagnosed, it was such a dark time in our lives, and we were feeling lost,” says Amy. “We really felt when we left here that we were a little more prepared for what Mason’s life would be.”
Throughout his life, Mason has showed his loved ones that his smile is one of his greatest strengths.
“Our child is constantly happy and has a great outlook on life,” says Amy. “Mason has opened our eyes to what pure joy, love, and happiness are.”