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'Super Bowl' baby born with rare spine condition is miracle for Johnson City parents

Jessica Fuller • Updated Apr 9, 2017 at 8:53 PM

Six-month-old Payton McCormick’s parents found out about her spine condition when her mother was still pregnant with her.

The diagnosis came at 25 weeks gestation — Payton’s spine was malformed in what’s known as a hemivertebra, a rare congenital condition that affects 1 in 1,000 births. According to the National Institutes of Health, a hemivertebra develops when only half of the the fetus’s vertebra develop. Peyton’s father, Anthony McCormick, said doctors also noted that Payton had a 13th rib.

McCormick said that he and his wife had been trying to have children for about four years when they learned his wife was pregnant. Payton was born more than a month early, McCormick said. Stress began taking over the excitement as the family began searching for answers and treatment options.

“It was pretty hard, this being our first child and everything, she was being born with a disability and nobody really around here could explain in full detail about what was going on,” McCormick said.

Payton’s name comes from her parents’ love of the Tennessee Vols and respect for Peyton Manning. The couple found out they were expecting shortly after the Denver Broncos won the 2016 Super Bowl with Manning at the helm as quarterback.

“We always wanted to name our child Peyton,” McCormick said. “With his medical issues that he had with his neck during his football career, and then we found out about her problem, it kind of lined up.”

A hemivertebra caused Payton’s spine to be wedge-shaped, and local neurosurgeon David Wiles said the biggest problem for those born with a hemivertebra is developing scoliosis later in life. Wiles said he mainly treats adults with these types of problems. He said sometimes the condition may correct itself or get more severe.

“The more common thing is when you have severe scoliosis,” he said. “It may also limit the development of your chest cavity and breathing ability.”

After consulting with doctors at the University of Tennessee, the family decided to treat at Boston Children’s Hospital to expand their options for Payton’s treatment – a 15-hour drive every few months for the family. Payton is too young for corrective surgery right now, but her father said they are looking for her to have surgery to place rods in her back to help her spine straighten out when she gets older.

Payton’s next appointment is in August, and the family is preparing for it with one income. McCormick travels three hours one-way to his job as a federal law enforcement officer and the couple only has one reliable vehicle, which puts a strain financially and emotionally. The family has set up a GoFundMe account to help garner donations toward the trips to Boston for Payton’s appointments.

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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