6-year-old San Diegan fighting cancer and COVID-19

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — In just days, the FDA could approve Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 5 years old.

For some families, whose children are immunocompromised, that news can’t come soon enough.

At the same time, Moderna is currently conducting its own trial for children aged 6 to 11. A trial involving a San Diego family whose child is battling not only COVID-19, but cancer as well.

Layla Mahoney and her parents spend a perfect day in San Diego on a boat with Waterhorse Charters. Seemingly no care in the world for a 6 year old with eyes wide open to new discoveries.

“She’s a very curious, very active mind,” says her father Shawn Mahoney. “And I said, ‘You know what, Layla’s going to see the world.’ And I want to see it through her eyes.”

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There is a sense of urgency in Shawn’s tone. He and his wife, Mariel, an environmental and marine photographer by trade, have already taken their daughter Layla on adventures most of us can only dream of. But they also know that every second counts in her young life.

“I’ve always been an optimist and I will always be,” says Layla’s mother, Mariel.

This summer, Layla was diagnosed with a very rare form of brain cancer. She has already had two surgeries, is now undergoing daily proton therapy and will begin chemotherapy in December.

“It’s important for us to keep her as safe as possible and others around who are immunocompromised,” Mariel added.

Which brings us to another unknown journey in Layla’s young life. She is one of several thousand children across the country participating in Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trial for children ages 6 to 11. Layla is one of only 60 children chosen for the San Diego County study. How she got into the process was her own adventure.

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“The past two months have been life-changing is an understatement,” Shawn added.

Months before Layla was ever diagnosed, Shawn and Mariel were researching the COVID-19 vaccines for children. Feeling comfortable with what they were learning, they offered Layla for the Moderna trail. But before she was hired, the headaches started.

“Had she been diagnosed with that, it would have been an immediate disqualification,” Mariel says.

Layla went through a series of tests, a painful amount of time to determine the cause of her headache. But eventually, that time got Layla accepted into the modern childhood vaccine trial. She got her first injection and 10 minutes later on the car ride home Shawn got a call from the hospital saying she had a rare tumor and needed immediate surgery.

“I just started laughing at the irony, the timing,” Shawn says. “And how it all felt.”

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Made to be, because as Layla’s chemotherapy progresses, it will weaken her natural immunity. Fever after her second injection makes the Mahoneys feel as if she’s received the actual vaccine and not the placebo. And with experts worrying that COVID cases will increase this winter, a vaccine for Layla could help save her life.

“The doctors have overwhelmingly said that any extra layer of protection will absolutely help her,” Shawn says.

And so the journey into the unknown continues, but with optimism and hope. A father who hopes to see the world through his daughter’s eyes. A daughter who hopes to share in her father’s adventures and what she loves most.

“Scuba diving!” says Layla excitedly.

There are still many underwater adventures here for years to come.

A GoFundMe page was created in Layla’s name and most of the proceeds will go to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital and to nonprofits for animals of Layla’s choice. In just a matter of weeks, that page is already three quarters of the way to its goal of raising $100,000. If you’d like to donate to the fundraiser, click here.

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