A smile goes a long way.
And when you meet Sean Rovers, you will see why.
The 11-year-old from Bethel Park “lights up a room” with his smile, says one of the doctors treating him for a rare brain tumor.
“The minute you see him he has a smile on his face,” says Dr. James Felker, assistant professor, pediatric neuro-oncology program, at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville. “His smile lights up a room. A lot of people might feel sorry for themselves, and just stay home, but not Sean and his family.”
Sean was diagnosed with a rare myxoid mesenchymal tumor on the brain in 2017.
An annual routine check-up revealed that he had lost almost 10 pounds in one year. Testing showed a tumor the size of a golf ball on the lining of his brain. He had surgery on Oct. 24, 2017.
On March 5, 2018, it was revealed that the tumor returned, and two more had developed. He had surgery on April 17, followed by six weeks of radiation.
There are only a handful of patients with this type of tumor in the country, so it is difficult to predict what will happen, Felker says. Sean currently is doing well, which is “great news,” Felker says.
Sean returns to the doctor on June 30.
“Sean and his family have been through the unimaginable,” says Felker. “It is life-threatening, and just getting through that is stressful, but they have found a way to think of others during such a challenging time in their lives.””
About giving back
Sean would wake up smiling after each surgery, his mother, Maria Rovers says. His face would be swollen and head wrapped in bandages, but he’d be smiling.
“When he was in the hospital, every nice thing someone did for him helped him, and he appreciated it. So he wants to give back,” she says.
“We need more smiles in today’s world,” Sean says.
In order to help bring more smiles to the faces of children like him spending days and often weeks in the hospital, Sean, with the help of his family, created “Smiles from Sean,” a project inspired by the compassion of those who were there for the Rovers family.
How it began
The project consists of raising money to buy emoji pillows, smiley face stress balls and emoji cinch backpacks to give to ill children. Sean and his mother came up with the idea, but they say it is truly a team effort.
The donations are given to the Child Life Department at Children’s. This department provides developmental, educational, social and emotional support to children of all ages..
“We are very grateful for Sean and his family and the work they have done to support the hospital,” Felker says. “We need more people like Sean in the world. Seeing the children when they receive a pillow or cinch bag or stress ball makes a difference.
“The great thing about taking care of children is they can easily find joy, and these items bring them joy. It brightens their day and it breeds happiness, not only to the patient but to the staff caring for these children.”
So far, “Smiles from Sean” has given away more than 200 items And Sean says he wants to give more. He wants to donate items annually.
“I have been at the hospital many times, and I know how it feels to be hooked up to machines and poked with needles,” Sean says. “I want to give other children something to smile about. I want them to be happy and to smile, no matter what.”
How to help
Sean, his family and the Bethel Park School District have created two fundraisers. The first is a quarter coin drive during which students can donate money through the month of May.
Pam Perich, vice president of the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization, is helping with the coin drive.
“It is awesome, because Sean — despite all he has been going through — thinks of others and not just himself,” she says.
The other fundraiser is the “Glofest Mini Golf Tournament” at 6 p.m. May 17 at Cool Springs, a sports facility in Bethel Park.
Because he continues to heal, Sean is not permitted to play contact sports, but he can participate in miniature golf. The idea for the golf outing came from Bethel Park school nurse Eileen Wallace.
“It is one of the few sports he can still participate in,” she says. “It is so wonderful they want to give back so this, I feel, is a way to raise some money and have some fun. It’s an activity where families can participate together. We continue to pray for Sean and his family every day, and we remain positive.”
“This is all for such a good cause,” says Kenny Patterson, principal at Neil Armstrong Middle School in the Bethel Park School District. “When I met Sean and his family, they were so wonderful, so we jumped at the chance to participate in these fundraisers.”
Patterson has offered the children a challenge. He will shoot a round of miniature golf and if any of them beat his score, they will win a prize.
“It is important for me to get involved in these types of things and it’s a great opportunity for the kids to help them understand about life,” says Patterson.
The trip of a lifetime
Before the second surgery, Sean was able to take a trip to Florida, thanks to Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Sean, his three brothers and their parents traveled to Legoland Florida, Universal Orlando and the Kennedy Space Center, where Sean met retired astronaut Bruce Melnick.
“Being able to take that trip to Florida helped us get away from the situation for a little bit,” says Sean’s father, Michael Rovers. “My son is one tough kid. When the doctors and nurses would come into his room, he would make their day because he would be smiling. He was in pain, but he never complained. He just kept smiling.”
“He is an inspiration every day,” Maria Rovers says. “We hope the pillows, cinch bags and stress balls can create some diversion from all the medical issues these children and their families have to deal with.
“We don’t know what the future will hold for Sean,” Maria Rovers says. “But we know that we will do everything we can to stay positive and keep smiling.”