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Track Star Bounces Back From Major Illness, Spinal Surgery to Full-Ride TCU Scholarship

Meet Marquis Shorten. His mother is a NICU nurse at Cook Children's. After facing a rare condition (spinal epidural hematoma), Marquis will now run track as a Horned Frog.

Note: This story was featured on Good Morning America. View it here.

By Heather Duge

Valerie Shorten, BSN, RN, and her son, Marquis Shorten, are no strangers to overcoming obstacles. Each one has led them to where they are today.

Marquis faced a life-changing diagnosis at Cook Children’s in 2022 – the same hospital where his mother Valerie works. She was determined to become a nurse after her brother was killed.Marquis Shorten (1)

“I always thought about what I could have done to help him had I been there,” Valerie said. “That’s when I knew nursing was my calling.”

Nursing Journey

In 2011, Valerie found out about an open position at Cook Children’s – a place she had visited a few years before when Marquis had a minor injury while playing with his brother.

“I remember how caring everyone was and thinking with three boys it was probably not the last time I would be there,” Valerie said.

After 15 months of working in Food Services, she applied for a secretary position in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). In May 2021, she graduated from nursing school and started as a nurse resident at Cook Children’s -- 10 years to the day of her first day in the cafeteria. She rotated through all the ICUs and the emergency department in one year. Now she is a nurse in the Cook Children’s NICU.

“I know that no one chooses to come into this hospital,” Valerie said. “You never know what a person is going through, so I make sure I always give the kind of treatment I would want for my child.” Marquis Shorten (6)

Shocking Diagnosis

In April 2022, Valerie was in the middle of her nursing shift when she received a text from Marquis that read “My spine hurts.” She told him to take ibuprofen since she thought it could be related to his running. Marquis Shorten (3)

“Marquis is a runner and was No. 1 in the district,” Valerie said. “He was slated to run in the regional meet to see if he would qualify for state. I thought the pain could be from a pulled muscle or running injury.”

Valerie told him to rest and let her know if it worsened. Eventually, Marquis drove himself to the ED at Cook Children’s and at that point could not feel his right leg.

“I met him at the ED but didn’t think it was anything too severe,” Valerie said.

An MRI revealed a spinal epidural hematoma, which is like a pooling of blood on the spine, and Marquis underwent emergency surgery. If too much time passed, Marquis could have become paralyzed.Marquis Shorten (2)

“Everything was a blur and I remember being overly emotional as Marquis continued to lose the feeling in his legs,” Valerie said. “But I knew he was at the right place.”

Marquis was quickly wheeled to the operating room where Medical Director of Neuro-Trauma, and pediatric neurosurgeon Daniel Hansen, M.D., removed the large blood clot that was compressing the spinal cord.

Recovering Physically and Mentally

Valerie became anxious thinking about Marquis's mental state when he woke up and realized all he worked for was not going to happen that year at the regional track meet, if at all. 

“A nurse pulled his father, DeMario, and me aside and told me that when Marquis woke up, he asked when he would leave that day because he had a track meet in a few days,” Valerie said. “The real pain came when all the times were posted from the race he missed.” Marquis with mom and dad

Valerie and DeMario helped Marquis work through his emotions but did not let him stay down too long.

“I told him he could decide to lay there and be sad or decide what’s going to happen next,” Valerie said. “My life motto is that you are the writer of your story.”

Nurses realized how hard it was for Marquis to face the reality that he missed the regional meet and was not sure what running would look like in the future. During the 10-day stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, Marquis says the nurses went above and beyond to bring him comfort. On a particularly hard day, the café was out of Chick-fil-A milkshakes, so the nurses gathered all the supplies and made him one.

“They did everything I needed before I even asked for it,” Marquis said. “They fixed my pillows a certain way, brought me the Gatorade flavor I liked with a straw, broke up pills because I couldn’t move my neck to swallow and positioned my toes for me when I couldn’t move them.” Marquis with dad

Back on Track

Valerie says everyone was surprised at how fast Marquis progressed. Throughout his healing journey, he used a brace, walker and wheelchair. After lots of hard work in physical therapy, he was cleared to jog four months after surgery and in January 2023 ran in his first race since surgery at Texas Tech University.

“My parents kept me going,” Marquis said. “My track coaches Jesse Heard and Sa’Donna Thornton also were there for me. Coach Heard gave me a love for track and all he instilled in me is a big reason why I treat everyone with kindness. He has sacrificed countless hours just to help me succeed. Coach Thornton played a huge part in helping me gain my confidence back and keep my positive outlook on the situation. I knew God had a plan and it would turn out OK.”

A Lifelong Dream Come True Marquis Shorten (4)

Marquis says coming back from a major surgery has only made his passion for running stronger, and he wanted to prove to everyone he was just as good. He has accomplished that and more. When he graduated high school in May 2023, he received the Optimist Award. This fall, Marquis will attend Texas Christian University on a full-track scholarship – a goal he set for himself at only 10 years old.

“Marquis decided in fourth grade that he would one day attend TCU,” Valerie said. “Jokingly, I expressed how his father and I did not budget for TCU. At the time, our fourth grader looked at me on the car ride to school and said, ‘Don't worry, I'm going to get a scholarship.’ His dreams came true.”

“The most gratifying part of my job is seeing kids through their illness to the other side,” Dr. Hansen said. “For Marquis, that means a life that is everything he has always wanted.”

About Cook Children's Health Care System US News & World report

Cook Children’s is more than a health care system: we strive to be an extension of your family, growing with your child from their first steps to adulthood. By collaborating to deliver on our Promise—to improve the well-being of every child in our care and our communities, we connect the dots for our patients. Between primary and specialty. Between home and medical home. Between short-term care and long-term health.

Based in Fort Worth, Texas, we’re 8,000+ dedicated team members strong, passionately caring for over 1.5 million patient encounters each year. Our integrated, not-for-profit organization spans two medical centers (including our new, state-of-the-art location in Prosper), two surgery centers, a physician network, home health services and a health plan. It also includes Child Study Center at Cook Children's, Cook Children's Health Services Inc., and Cook Children's Health Foundation. 

And our impact extends beyond the borders of Texas. We proudly treat children from virtually every state in the nation and 32 countries. By seeing the world through the eyes of children and their families from all backgrounds, we’re able to shape health care suited to them: connected by kindness, imagination and respect—with an extra dose of magical wonder.

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