Sloan Peterson doesn’t let anything slow her down. At only 8 years old, she’s already started her own business baking and delivering scones, and has her own YouTube channel. Next up, the 2022 Braille Challenge Finals in Los Angeles! Sloan is one of nine students selected as a finalist in her age category. Very impressive, especially when you consider Sloan’s been living with a brain tumor most of her young life.
The tumor was discovered when Sloan was around 18 months old. She was referred to an ophthalmologist after her tear ducts weren’t clearing up properly. The doctor noticed her eye had a little wiggle and recommended she have an MRI. After the test, her mom, Danika, remembers getting the call before Sloan was even back from the scan – the MRI found a brain tumor on her optic nerve. Sloan was admitted to Children’s Minnesota and began receiving care from Dr. Mary Skrypek, one of the neuro-oncology experts in the Cancer and Blood Disorders program.
“It felt like a lot, especially at first because it was all so new. But we took things one day at a time,” said Danika.
Over the course of the next month, Sloan underwent blood tests, a tumor biopsy, had a port implanted and started chemotherapy. The location of the tumor also impacted her eyesight.
“Because the tumor is on her optic nerve, that caused Sloan to have significant visual impairment,” said Dr. Skrypek.
The tumor caused Sloan to go completely blind in her right eye. Her left eye tests between 20/400 and 20/800. That means objects kids with 20/20 vision can see 400 feet away, Sloan would need to be at 20 feet away to see.
Sloan and her family made regular visits to Children’s Minnesota for chemotherapy and other care until she was 5 and a half years old. She ended up spending three Halloweens at the hospital and two Christmas’ in the emergency department. Sloan didn’t seem to mind all the trips to the hospital. “She always loved to go,” said Danika.
Sloan had her last round of chemotherapy in July 2020, when she was 6 years old. Her tumor hasn’t grown or shrunk, which is an encouraging sign. Her care team doesn’t expect the tumor will ever go away and removing it with surgery carries the risk of her going completely blind in her left eye.
“She’s doing so well. Being visually impaired is always going to come with adjustments. But she’s in her classroom, she’s crazy smart in everything she does. She’s the best,” remarked Danika.
Sloan began learning braille when she was 3 years old after being referred by her clinical social worker at Children’s Minnesota. In 2021, Danika was scrolling through her Google News feed when the Braille Challenge popped up. The international competition tests blind or visually impaired kids in reading comprehension, spelling, speed and accuracy, and proofreading. Sloan’s teacher did a private test with her. It didn’t go as well as expected. But that did not stop Sloan from trying again this year!
More than 800 kids from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom participated in the 2022 Braille Challenge Regionals. When Sloan’s family got the news that she made the finals they were all very excited. “Sloan started jumping around when we played the voicemail for her,” said Matt.
“She is one of the brightest and most charming little girls and thrives at everything she does. Her parents, Danika and Matt, continue to find ways to challenge her despite her vision and she continues to excel,” said Dr. Skrypek.
The 2022 Braille Challenge will take place June 24-26 in Los Angeles. Good luck, Sloan!