May 5, 2017
Mataya Duvall has been fighting cancer since she took her first labored breath.
Mataya was born on a freezing cold January night in Bemidji, Minn. Immediately, she struggled to breathe, which perplexed her doctors and terrified her parents. With the cause unknown, Mataya was rushed to Sanford Partners Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Sanford Children’s Hospital in Fargo by Sanford AirMed.
It was there that her family received the devastating news: their newborn had cancer. A large tumor was wrapped around her spine and aorta making breathing difficult and threatening her life.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear the word ‘cancer,’” said Mataya’s mom, Nicole. “I started crying because she was so small and I didn’t know how a baby could fight cancer.”
At just 9 days old, Mataya underwent her first chemotherapy treatment at Sanford with the region’s only pediatric oncology team.
She spent the next five months at Sanford Children’s, moving from the NICU to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit to the pediatric floor. In that time, she underwent five surgeries, seven rounds of chemo, 51 blood transfusions and more than 1,000 scans and tests.
“The staff is wonderful,” Nicole said. “They take the time to explain things to you, ask if you have any questions and consider your thoughts and feelings.”
For those five months, Nicole and her husband, Steve, found themselves driving 1,000 miles a week, commuting back and forth from their home in Bemidji to Sanford Children’s in Fargo. With four kids at home to support, Nicole continued to work while Steve took leave to be with Mataya.
“You just go into survival mode, and do whatever it takes,” Nicole said. “It’s really hard, but that’s the only thing you can do.”
Without the world-class treatment available in Fargo, both at Sanford Children’s and the Roger Maris Cancer Center, Nicole and her family would have found themselves traveling twice as far for Mataya’s care.
“We wouldn’t have been able to make all those trips back and forth,” Nicole said.
Today, Mataya is cancer-free and at home with her family in Bemidji. She continues routine appointments at Sanford Children’s and Roger Maris Cancer Center.
“She’s always super happy,” Nicole said. “Even while going through all of this, she doesn’t fuss or cry. She’s just always smiling.”
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