Your support enables us to care for every child who comes through the doors of Rady Children’s Hospital. Meet two of these inspiring kids, Zainab & Reef, whose strength and bravery can inspire us all to do more to help all kids just be kids again.
At 17 months old, Reef was walking, talking and living a happy, mellow and carefree life with his dad, Robe, mom, Meridith, and big sister, Brighton. But life was anything but carefree back in May 2014, when Meridith, 37 weeks pregnant with Reef, was feeling unusually uncomfortable.
At 32 weeks, Meridith was having bad Braxton Hicks contractions so she went in for an ultrasound and all was fine. She went in again at 37 weeks for a follow-up and what happened next sent the Whittemore family into frenzy. Doctors discovered an abnormal collection of blood in the baby’s brain and insisted Meridith get to the hospital immediately.
Reef Makai Buttons Whittemore was born via emergency C-section at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns on May 8, 2014. Immediately, he was whisked away from his mother through the tunnel connecting Sharp and Rady Children’s and admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), where he would be treated for respiratory distress before doctors determined the next course of action.
Reef was diagnosed with a massive aneurysm, a weak spot on a blood vessel that balloons out and fills with blood. A brain aneurysm can rupture and bleed into the brain, which can be fatal. Michael Levy, MD, prepared for the surgery using 3-D virtual models of Reef’s unique blood vessels in order to develop a precise understanding of his vascular system. Everything went so smoothly with the surgery that Reef’s physicians expect no long-term effects from the aneurysm.
As his proud dad puts it, “He’ll be a normal kid with a horseshoe scar and a story to tell.” Story time will come later, but for now, life’s a beach for Reef and his family in Point Loma, where he loves surfing and paddle boarding with his dad, wrestling, eating, dancing, and just being a happy little boy.
Zainab is an outgoing, 7-year-old who always manages to be the center of attention. In April 2017, her mom noticed Zainab’s unusually low energy at a birthday party and took her to the doctor the following day. That evening, after one blood test, Zainab was diagnosed with high risk B-Cell Leukemia at the age of 3. A port was surgically placed and chemotherapy treatments started the following day. Because of Zainab’s low blood counts and immunity, she remained in the hospital for 30 days. Zainab successfully finished treatment in August 2019 with a celebration in Carley’s Magical Garden. Zainab loves learning at school, chatting with her friends and playing Pokémon. You’ll catch her singing along with the radio, reading a book on a couch or immersed in an art project – especially if it involves glitter!