Staying resilient

Maren Bristow of Elk Grove does not let a spinal cord injury keep her from being physically active.

Elk Grove resident Maren Bristow, age 8, enjoys swimming, reading, and horseback riding. She stays physically active, despite having a spinal cord injury.

Doctors found cancer in her spine when she was 2 years old and was found to be cancer-free a year later, but it left her with a spinal cord injury and paralyzed from her back down.

Because of the long journey in rehabilitation, doctors recommended Northern California Shriners Hospital for her care. Led by Loren Davidson, M.D., medical director for the spinal cord injury program, Maren’s medical team includes physiatrists, orthopedic specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, urologists and gastroenterologists.

As a student at C.W. Dillard Elementary School in Wilton, Maren said distance learning has been OK and that reading is her favorite subject in school. The next series of books that she is interested in is “Horse Diaries or Royal Diaries.”

Maren enjoys participating in a local swim team, calling the experience “amazing.” She is the only member of the team who uses a wheelchair. She can do a backflip in the pool.

“I loved making friends and swimming backstroke,” she said.

Maren also has many interests outside school - she rides horses with Project R.I.D.E., an Elk Grove nonprofit that provides therapeutic recreation in the form of horseback riding instruction for people with special needs.

“My favorite horse at Project R.I.D.E. is Diesel,” she said. “He is the best, with two different color eyes and he is tall, so I can see a lot.”

The goals of Maren’s doctors are to get her to be the most independent that she can be with her wheelchair, “Rosie.”  

“Maren braved through a year of chemotherapy and radiation and surgery to be considered NED, no evidence of disease, for her kind of cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma, which is an aggressive bone cancer,” Samantha Bristow, Maren’s mother said.

In a press statement, the Northern California Shriners Hospital staff noted the importance of access to specialty pediatric care, regardless of a family’s ability to pay. They explained that for many families and children with complex medical conditions, care can’t just be put off until the COVID-19 pandemic passes.