Four-year-old Pensacola cancer survivor overcomes incredible odds

Born prematurely, a Pensacola four-year-old girl continues to overcome health diagnoses including cancer with the care from Studer Family Children’s Hospital.

At the tender age of 4, Raider is a cancer survivor who has overcome incredible odds.

Born at 30 weeks weighing 2 1/2 lbs. and measuring less than 14 inches, Raider spent the first 462 days of her life at Studer Family Children’s Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola, FL. Her grandfather, Kenny, whom Raider calls “Popka,” is grateful for the care teams who have helped him navigate multiple surgeries and hospitalizations.

Raider has persevered through complex medical needs since birth. She was born with holes in her heart, congestive heart failure and chronic lung disease. “When she stopped breathing, it was amazing to watch the team bring her back to life,” said Kenny, who has a long list of NICU and pediatric doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and rehab professionals to thank. “The care was phenomenal. They loved her!”

The four-year-old has endured more hospitalizations and surgeries than most adults. She is one of three children in the world to be diagnosed with a lesion that causes potentially life-threatening GI bleeding. In 2021, doctors discovered two cancerous tumors in her liver, which required surgical removal of more than half her liver. During her liver surgery, they repaired two hernias and removed her gallbladder. Surgeons discovered Raider has nine “accessory” spleens instead of one large normal spleen.

In December 2021, Raider began chemotherapy at Studer Family Children’s Hospital Bear Family Foundation Pediatric Oncology Center for Hope and spent Christmas Day in the hospital for a blood infection. After developing a narrowing of her airway, she underwent airway reconstruction surgery in Gainesville in 2022. Earlier this year, she battled COVID-19 and a urinary tract infection at the same time. “Miracle Child – she fits this definition for sure!” Kenny said.

While most premature babies develop language and motor skills in the same way as full-term babies, some may experience developmental delays. Raider is undergoing speech therapy and oral aversion therapy that will allow doctors to remove her feeding tube. Kenny said they are making arrangements with the county for a traveling teacher to see Raider so she can start school soon.

Thanks to the Make-a-Wish Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to kids fighting critical illnesses, the family recently visited Disney World and Universal Orlando, where Raider saw her favorite character, Gabby, from “Gabby’s Dollhouse.” “It was six days of pure joy!” Kenny said.

Raider recently reconnected with her doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists at the Studer Family Children’s Hospital’s NICU Reunion. “It was incredible to see everyone. She doesn’t like loud noises or crowds but went into the reunion full force and had a blast,” he said.

In spite of it all, Raider, whom Kenny calls “Baby Byrd,” is an active, happy child who is always exploring and interested in new things, he said. “She’s just the happiest [child] ever, extremely happy.”