She's a 'miracle child'

Laurin Fowler, 5, left, talks with her friend, Sarah Kathryn Cannup, 6, at Neely's Creek ARP Church in Rock Hill during Vacation Bible School last week.
Laurin Fowler, 5, left, talks with her friend, Sarah Kathryn Cannup, 6, at Neely's Creek ARP Church in Rock Hill during Vacation Bible School last week.

Laurin Fowler thinks she's a princess.

And why wouldn't she? Twice, a tumor has swelled inside the brain of the 5-year-old damsel from the Fishing Creek area of Chester County. Twice, doctors told her family that the tumor was inoperable.

Twice, they were wrong.

Laurin's glimmering knight has been an octogenarian in Little Rock, Ark., a renowned neurosurgeon named Gazi Yasargil. He operated on Laurin's tumor in 2006 and again in April, carving through the apple-sized mass that terrified Laurin's parents, Gill and Lauri.

The Fowlers remain worried about their daughter, who still has part of the benign tumor in her brain. Yasargil removed most of the tumor in April, and they know it could grow again.

But twice, Laurin has undergone high-risk surgeries and pulled through. As people of faith, the Fowlers believe in the possibility of Laurin living a full, happy life.

"She's just a miracle child," Lauri Fowler said.

In August 2007, a year after her first surgery, Laurin had just turned 5, and her family was pleased with her progress. The tumor had grown a little, but it seemed stable.

Laurin had a slight limp and a slight speech impediment. But she was going to physical therapy. She was in most ways just a kid who loved Dora the Explorer and Littlest Pet Shop toys, particularly a small plastic lamb she calls "Lambie."

Her family first noticed Laurin was having vision problems in October. She would turn her head sharply to the right and gaze out of the left corners of her eyes. Tests showed the tumor had grown significantly from December through March.

"It was a terrible time," said Betty Settlemyer, Laurin's grandmother.

Lauri and Gill considered chemotherapy and radiation, deciding the latter would be better for their daughter because of fewer risks and side effects.

Doctors told them surgery wasn't an option: Too risky, and not enough of the tumor could be removed to amount to anything.

Laurin was fitted with a mask in April that was designed to keep her head in place during the radiation. That same night, the family was eating at Settlemyer's house when Yasargil's wife, who is also his nurse, called to say that Yasargil had seen Laurin's MRI that Lauri had sent him.

He thought he could remove two-thirds of the tumor.

Lauri handed the phone to Gill, who peppered the nurse with questions about the risks, the what ifs.

"I just wanted to know if she would come through as good as before," Gill said.

But the Fowlers' fears were tempered with the optimism that much of their daughter's tumor could be removed.

"You don't know how much that'll be," Lauri said, "but you always hope."

Laurin went into surgery on the morning of April 15 in Arkansas, five days after a 13-hour drive in a Chevy Impala.

Gill and Lauri spent most of the next five hours in a waiting room with no couches. They read magazines, called family members and tried to sleep, or at least not think about what was happening.

At 2:30 p.m., Yasargil came out and told the Fowlers that he had gotten much of the tumor -- more than he had initially believed was possible. Finally, at 4 p.m., the Fowlers saw Laurin.

Lauri showed her daughter three fingers, then five, asking her if she knew how many she was holding up.

She did.

The family spent two days in the hospital, then went to a hotel for a week.

"It was almost a little scary," Gill said, "to take her from there two days after surgery."

But Laurin quickly began regaining her princess form. She watched Dora on DVD, scoffed at movie selections that weren't hers, and, like a princess of any age, she requested popcorn and chocolate.

Her small eyes swelled to shades of violet, but that didn't bother Laurin. Her favorite color is purple, the hue of royalty, and she was happy with her purple eyes. She asked her parents for a mirror to see them.

Laurin came home on April 23, a Wednesday. The Sunday after her return, her parents took her to church, expecting her only to go to Sunday school because she was still recovering. Laurin wanted to stay for the full service and the meal afterward.

The only thing she didn't want to do was sit in her wheelchair.

Throughout Laurin's surgery and recovery, people cooked for the Fowlers. Someone even mowed their lawn while they were in Arkansas, and one couple gave Laurin a homemade book about Lambie's fictional adventures.

The family couldn't be more thankful.

The Fowlers also noticed just how popular their daughter has become. On the day of her surgery, friends, family and even people who'd just heard of Laurin wore purple in support of her. Some wore pins with Lambie on them. Others wore necklaces of block letters saying "Pray for Laurin."

Laurin's next checkup with Yasargil should be next month. The family doesn't know what her prognosis will be, but they've noticed Laurin's surgery hasn't slowed her down.

"It was almost like she didn't have surgery," Settlemyer said.

Laurin wants people to play with her constantly. She likes watching DVDs of Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" and "Cinderella" -- "She thinks she is Cinderella," Lauri says -- and she takes exception to her 9-year-old brother, Chandler, winning their UNO games.

The original Lambie broke, so Laurin has a new lamb figurine.

Its name? Princess Laurin.