Shawn Pederson squealed and shook his fists quickly — a sign of excitement — as Don Bee, an HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital radiology nurse, talked to Pederson about University of Wisconsin Badgers football during a trip to the hospital.
Pam Boss, Pederson’s mother, doesn’t often see that kind of interaction with her son.
Pederson, 20, was born with semi-lobar holoprosencephaly — a rare neurological disorder akin to the highest end of the Cerebral Palsy spectrum.
“People are polite,” she said about encounters with Pederson, “but they move onto other things.”
Bee didn’t move on.
He stayed by Pederson’s side to talk sports during the hospital visit. It’s one of Pederson’s favorite topics.
A chance encounter
The day before Thanksgiving a year ago, Pederson was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at HSHS Sacred Heart. Boss and Pederson spent Thanksgiving in the hospital in 2018. That Friday they met Bee during a special feeding tube switch for Pederson.
That’s when Boss saw the initial connection between her son and Bee.
“You have to understand, most people do not know how to communicate with special needs children, or they are afraid to,” Boss said. “Someone like Don (Bee) is a diamond in the rough, and it was pretty cool to see him get right into Shawn’s face talking to him about the Badgers, sports, you name it.”
Bee was just doing what he does on a regular basis — try to make patients feel comfortable.
“I’m always just trying to be a person that is nice to everyone,” he said. “This is a kid that has everything going against him. I wanted to make him smile.”
From birth, Pederson wasn’t given a very good prognosis.
“I was told to take him home, expect the worst and hope for the best,” Boss said. “They didn’t expect him to live past six months, but he did.”
Then specialists gave Pederson two years.
And once again, Pederson proved them wrong.
“This went on and on until all of the specialists threw up their arms and said, ‘Whatever you are doing, keep it up,’” Boss recalled. “I said, ‘It’s not me, it’s Shawn.’”
Pederson’s spirit shines through despite the many challenges he faces every day.
Pederson is a spastic quadriplegic, non-verbal, has seizure disorder, swallow disorder, a GJ feeding tube, requires suctioning throughout the day and night from his swallow reflex, is on oxygen at night for sleep apnea and requires one-on-one continual care.
The love Pederson’s family feels for him is fierce. From Boss’ partner to Pederson’s sister and step-siblings, they have helped take care of Pederson, and they always fight over who gets to sit near him or sleep by his side.
That’s why Boss found it heartwarming to have a person outside of the family connect with Pederson in a similar way.
“When you have a special needs son, sometimes people in the medical field will just talk to me. And that is fine,” Boss said. “But Don goes above and beyond by talking to my son, getting down on his level and really brightening his day, and mine too.”