SWEA CITY, Iowa - Dylan Bradford was born four weeks premature with a series of health issues. Yet despite being completely blind, suffering seizures and coping with a poor immune system that leaves him susceptible to illness and infection, Dylan remains one of the happiest kids in his school.
"His teachers have nicknamed him 'Mr. Sunshine,'" said his mother Tifani Bradford, who teaches eighth-grade reading and language arts at North Union Middle School in Swea City. "He is the most cheerful, sweetest and energetic little boy. If you were to ask him, he thinks he's got the greatest life."
When Bradford was pregnant with Dylan, doctors realized he had stopped growing and thriving, and was in distress.
"He was 2 pounds, 11 ounces at birth," Bradford said. "When he was born, they learned he had bilateral micropthalmia, cataracts and detached retinas. So he is completely blind and wears prosthetic shells."
His eyes weren't the only problem. Dylan also suffers from thyroid issues and failure to grow. His poor immune system has meant many hospitalizations. Ear infections are now leading to some hearing loss and a surgery is needed to avoid further hearing loss or deafness.
"At 7 years old, he weighs 19 pounds and is 2 feet, 10 inches tall," Bradford said. "Most people who see him for the first time think he's still a toddler."
With Dylan's numerous health issues, doctors visits and tests are the norm. But health insurance does not cover all of them.
"The question of why this happened to him, the doctors are still struggling with an answer," Bradford said. "There's no diagnosis or syndrome, but they're trying to find the answers."
The testing needed for these answers doesn't come cheap, and insurance companies are not willing to help.
"The cheapest of these tests is around $50,000," Bradford said.
But there is the possibility of grant funding.
"The doctors at Gillette Children's Hospital in St. Paul are helping us identify resources," Bradford said.
In the meantime, doctors are working to maintain Dylan's quality of life.
"We were scheduled to have the surgery for his ears this fall, but then he had a seizure," Bradford said. "Now the earliest they could do it is in January. ... They're hoping the surgery will rectify his hearing, but that is not certain. He's still hearing now, and that's what we're trying to hold on to."
The good news is that Dylan is thriving socially, as he began kindergarten at North Union this year.
"He has specialists that are working on reading Braille, and his orientation mobility to walk with a cane," Bradford said. "He gets along great with adults, but he's still getting used to being around kids his age. But they all love him and include him in things."
Bradford's "family" at the North Union school have helped organize a benefit to be held Friday to help with Dylan's medical expenses.
The fundraiser will be 5 p.m. Friday at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Swea City, with a free-will supper and a silent and live auction. Numerous businesses throughout the region have donated items for the event.
"I was shocked to hear about it, but very appreciative," Bradford said. "It means so much that there are so many people who are wanting to help him, because he is just a sweet, sweet boy."