Special Spaces: A new room for Autumn
by BETTIE MARLOWE, Banner Staff Writer
Feb 26, 2012 | 1127 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
THE DUGGAN FAMILY — Sonya and Ryan with daughter Autumn and twin sons, Ryan Jr., right, and Koby, left, gather in Autumn’s new room against a backdrop of her personalized wall. Banner photos
DONNA KAYLOR
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Little Autumn Duggan got her wish granted for her 8th birthday. The daughter of Ryan and Sonya Duggan of Cleveland wanted a new bedroom. And Special Spaces, a nonprofit organization which works out of Chattanooga, created a dream room for the little girl, who has suffered with a brain tumor since she was 4 years old. Autumn has two brothers, Koby, 8, and Ryan 5.

For several months, Sharon Gallaher of Cleveland has worked as an artist with Special Spaces director Anne Shrunk, who is coordinating the project. The volunteer staff of Special Spaces, which creates bedrooms for critically ill children, met at the Duggan home on Jan. 28 for a transformation of Autumn’s room. Within eight hours, the little girl had her dream bedroom.

Special Spaces — “just what the doctor ordered” — was founded for the development and construction of these personal spaces for children who , because of illness, have to spend much of their time in their bedrooms. Local businesses, corporations and family and church groups fund the child’s room and provide a team of volunteers to help with the decorating and completion. Every child gets to design his or her own unique “special space.”

The little 8-year-old was first diagnosed with a brain tumor at T.C. Thompson Children’s Hospital. She was taken straight to surgery to get VP shunts put in her brain to take care of the fluid. From that, oncologists recommended she have brain surgery at Vanderbilt.

At Vanderbilt University Hospital, she had a brain biopsy to find out what type of tumor she had and was diagnosed with a Thalamic Pilomyxoid Astrocytoma Stage 4 tumor.

The neurosurgeon performed a nine-hour surgery to remove it, but because the tumor was located in the delicate part of her brain, which made it too risky, the surgery was unsuccessful.

The Duggans returned to Chattanooga after about a month and Autumn had 15 months of chemo treatments. But then in October 2010, they learned the tumor was back. After 52 treatments, there was no significant change in the size of the tumor and, in October 2011, Autumn was taken off chemo.

Meanwhile, the doctors wait to see if the tumor has grown by the time of her MRI to discuss the possibility of more aggressive treatment.

“She is a very passionate little girl who cares more about others than herself,” Gallaher said.

“It is so rewarding to see the faces of these children when they first walk into their new rooms.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Donations to Special Spaces are tax deductible. For more information, email: annestrunk4@gmail.com; or visit specialspaceschattanooga.org or www.specialspaces.org.