Layla has grown up traveling the world with her father. Her excitement for animals and nature can’t be understated.
Before returning to school this fall her parents decided to sign her up for the Moderna vaccine trials. To help keep her safe at school and allow her to keep doing what she loves best: exploring.
"The pandemic we took very seriously," said Shawn. "We’re very science orientated in this house and we followed the science on this and we said, 'Let's get these kids the vaccine as soon as we possibly can.'"
Moderna has entered the final phase of clinical trials to test their vaccine on 5 to 11-year-olds. Approximately 4,000 children across the country are enrolled in the study, 60 of them are from San Diego.
Shawn applied to have Layla, 6, participate in the trials around the end of June. It was also around this same time, however, that Layla began feeling sick.
"She started complaining of headaches, nausea, and vomiting,” Shawn said.
By the end of July, things got worse. It was during an emergency room visit that doctors found Layla had a brain tumor, a potentially cancerous one.
“We had the surgery on August 2 and the Moderna trial wasn't even on my mind at all," said Shawn. "But once we got home I realized, ‘You know what, she might get kicked out of the trial because of this. We could beat cancer but then COVID-19 could kill us.”
Frustrated and concerned over his daughter's condition, Shawn contacted Moderna to talk to them about his daughter's situation. Since Layla did not have a definitive diagnosis on her condition yet, Moderna decided to allow her to participate.
By early October she had received both shots.
"She came out of the bathroom, after her shower, and I looked at her and said, ‘Are you okay?’" Shawn said. "And she said, ‘I'm really tired and my body is achy and it's really cold in here.’ And I was like ‘Yes!’ I was never so excited to hear my kid didn’t feel well.”
While they don’t yet know if Layla received a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or a placebo dose, Shawn says he's crossing their fingers she was able to get the vaccine and hopes this is one less thing for his family to worry about.
Especially because on that same day she got the second dose, Shawn received another life-changing call.
"Ten minutes into the ride home, the phone rang, it was Memphis, Tennessee, it was St. Judes," said Shawn. "It was this woman named Tabitha and I told her what we were doing and she said, ‘Oh that's great, it's amazing,’ and she said, ‘We have a diagnosis.”
Layla was diagnosed with a rare aggressive form of brain cancer called anaplastic supratentorial ependymoma.
While Layla's battle with cancer is just beginning, her parents are hopeful Layla's participation in the vaccine trials will not only help keep her safe but encourage others who haven't yet done so to get vaccinated.
The young girl's love for animals has led her father to create what he calls a meaningful GoFundMe page to raise money for research at St. Jude's Hospital and be donated to animal charities of Layla's choice.