Family Seeks to Increase Awareness and Educate
BY LEANN DILBECK –
“Joy” comes in many different packages. One of those packages is named Raegan Hope McCourtney. Appropriately nicknamed by her kindergarten teacher, as “Lil’ Miss Sunshine,” she explains her birthmark as “Jesus kissed me.”
Raegan has a birthmark known as a ‘port wine stain’ that covers her entire face, lips, tongue, gums, head and a portion of her neck. A port wine stain is a vascular anomaly that is the result of an increased number of blood vessels that cause a reddish-purplish discoloration of the skin.
Only about 3 out of every 1,000 kids are born with this birthmark that literally looks like maroon wine was spilled or splashed on the skin. Although they often start out looking pink at birth, port wine stains tend to become darker as kids grow, and can, in some cases, become disfiguring.
Port wine stains cannot be prevented and they’re not caused by anything that could have occurred during the pregnancy.
Raegan is the adopted daughter of Dr. Bill and Sherri McCourtney. This giggly and joyful little girl entered the world in challenging circumstances under anyone’s standards and is well aware of her adoption. Her birth mother is deceased and Raegan points to Heaven to show you where she is and says that Jesus picked the McCourtneys to be her parents. Understanding that she was born in her Mommy’s [Sherri’s] heart, Raegan came to the McCourtney’s only a few weeks old as a foster child before she and her half-sister Harlei, were ultimately adopted by the family.
The main purpose in coming forward with Raegan’s story is because the McCourtneys, as would all parents, desire for Raegan to be treated as any other child, no pointing, shushing, or staring, and hope that by increasing awareness, they can create a more comfortable environment for their daughter. “For her to be comfortable, everyone around her needs to be comfortable.”
Sherri explained that Raegan had never noticed the looks before but says as she’s become older, she is more cognizant of them.
The most successful treatment for port wine stains is laser therapy. The younger the patient begins receiving the treatment, the greater the results. Treating port wine stains with the current laser technology helps prevent enlargement and deformity as the patient ages.
To date, Raegan has endured 23 laser treatments, starting at the tender age of 7 months and receiving them every 3 months. Her next will be in June and will be her 24th.
It was after Raegan’s most recent laser treatment that Sherri said it became obvious that Raegan noticed the looks. [Reference photo here.]
“We went to the mall following the treatment and Raegan quickly said, ‘Let’s just go. Everyone is looking at me and they’re going to know I look different.’”
Sherri said everyone seems to think it’s an allergic reaction or a burn. “I’ve watched mommas, well intentioned, shush their children when they see her. We’d rather they just go ahead and ask and in that way, we can bring greater awareness to it.”
Sherri commended Raegan’s kindergarten teacher, Ms. Leslie Daniels, for teaching the other students about Raegan’s condition and explained that her classmates have become “very protective” of her.
Raegan has some other medical issues that have baffled doctors but as her mother explained, Raegan continues to conquer obstacles. She explained that they were told that she was both deaf and blind when they first received her. “She wouldn’t even flinch at the buzzer in the gym. She wouldn’t follow objects with her eyes. She would look but not follow even your finger. Until one day…she just woke up.” Jokingly explained by her father as “just playing possum.” With no explanation, Raegan simply “woke-up” one day coming home from a routine check-up at Arkansas Children’s Hospital only a few weeks after coming to live with the McCourtneys. Since that day, she has continued developing, learning, and growing as any normal little girl…and spreading her own Raegan “sunshine” to all that know her. “We can only assume that they were coping mechanisms because of her surroundings.”
Sherri said that Raegan has a list of doctors, specialists, and sub-specialists at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Texas Children’s Hospital and John Hopkins have also consulted on her care. The genetics [department] calls her “The girl of mystery with little history,” because little to nothing is known of her birth parents.
Unaware of the incredible odds she has already defied, Raegan is no different than any other happy well-adjusted six-year old. She likes playing princess, dress-up and jumping on the trampoline. Her favorite things to eat are pecan-swirls, mac & cheese and ice cream. She loves going to Cracker Barrel to eat the chicken & dumplin’s. She loves her Mommy and Daddy and brothers and sisters. And Raegan especially loves the One who kissed her…her Jesus.
While Raegan is unaware of how incredibly special she is, her parents are keenly aware of the incredible blessing in which they have been entrusted with and desire greatly for her to be viewed no different than any other child.