Sparkt Bridges

He Turned His Challenge Into Smiles For Other Kids

Sean battled a rare brain tumor. Now he's making sure kids with cancer know they're not alone.


This story is part of a bi-weekly series that celebrates people who are reaching across a divide to "build bridges" with those different from themselves. The Sparkt Bridges series is made possible with the support of UPMC.

Today is Sean Rovers' 12th birthday. A reason to celebrate, of course. But there's extra joy in the Rovers family, who didn't know if they'd see this day two years ago. That's when Sean was diagnosed with a brain tumor, an intracranial myxoid mesenchyma sarcoma . It's a cancer so rare that at the time, Sean was the only one in the Pittsburgh region, only the fourth person in the country, and the youngest ever to be diagnosed.

Sean in recovery after his first brain surgery.

Sean's diagnosis lead to brain surgery and radiation, then a second operation when the tumor unexpectedly reoccured. Sean smiled through it all, boosting the spirits of his family and his medical team. His mother Maria vowed that they would one day make a difference for other kids battling cancer, so they formed a non-profit, appropriately named "Smiles from Sean," that distributes items with smiley emojis to children in the hospital.

Making a delivery of smiles to Children's Hospital.

We went along as Sean made a special delivery to Childrens Hospital of Pittsburgh and saw what a difference he's making in the lives of kids and families he may never meet.

Sean's diagnosis by doctors at Children's Hospital was long and agonizing, since his type of sarcoma doesn't have many symptoms beyond weight loss and fatigue, which made it hard to differentiate from other diseases. It's why Sean's mom Maria wants to use Smiles from Sean to educate people, and to fight for more research. "I'm constantly doing research, looking for ideas to just get the word out there," said Maria.

Sean's doctor finds the boy's courage and the family's dedication to give back nothing short of amazing. "Sean and his family are always smiling and happy to be here," said Children's Hospital Pediatric Neurooncologist Dr. James Felker. "They take that energy and they pass it to others."

Money raised by Sean's classmates at Neil Armstrong Elementary in Bethel Park, PA

A recent scan showed no signs of the tumor, but the road ahead for Sean will be a long one as doctors work to manage permanent side effects from radiation. "My hope is that he grows up to be a teenager and a young adult that does all the things that normal teenagers and normal young adults do," said Dr. Felker. "And that he gets to live his life as he wanted to."

We hope so too! If you'd like to help Sean spread his smiles to other kids battling cancer, click here for a link to the Smiles From Sean Facebook page.

The Sparkt Bridges Project is produced with the generous support of UPMC. Life Changing Medicine.

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