Short in Stature, Large in Heart

Mazie with tech worker.

Mazie has bonded with her entire care team, including Melody Klayer, an Ophthalmology technician.

Mazie Spreads Love and Joy Across The Hospital

As an active 5-year-old, Mazie Riffell keeps her parents, Cherri and Larry, busy with her silly playfulness and loving nature. Born with dwarfism, Mazie requires lots of medical attention and is seen by a variety of specialists. Thankfully the Riffells found the care they wanted, and needed, here at Cincinnati Children’s.

Cherri Riffell credits a single comment for saving her daughter’s life. A simple observation made by one doctor to another about Mazie’s head, when she was just a baby. While it could’ve been nothing, it turned out to be something – a significant something.

Recalling the conversation vividly, Cherri said she too had often wondered about Mazie’s head but was always told it was nothing.

Although Mazie was being seen in our Orthopaedics clinic at the time, it was a doctor from our Division of Human Genetics who said he didn’t like the look of Mazie’s head. Tests were run and surgery was set up after it was confirmed that apparent damage to her eyes could be the result of pressure from her brain. 

“Her brain was pushing up out of her soft spot and down her spinal column. Her brain was too big and didn’t have enough room,” said Cherri. “She could’ve had a seizure. Or gone blind. Or died. But the eyes showed there was a problem in the brain.”

The Art of Winning People Over, Mazie-Style

Adopted at 4 months old, Mazie has undergone an additional three neurosurgeries in her short life. And despite her short stature, it’s her large heart that consistently wins over people, said Cherri, including her Ophthalmology care team led by Terry L. Schwartz, MD.

“Dr. Schwartz and the team, they just love her to death,” said Cherri. “We see Dr. Schwartz every two or three months. She’s our first line of defense to see if something is going wrong with Mazie’s brain – short of an MRI. I know I’m getting the care that we need.”

Schwartz describes Cherri as a “full partner” in her daughter’s care. If Mazie is showing new symptoms, Cherri knows she can pick up the phone and quickly make an appointment so the Ophthalmology team can figure out if the symptoms warrant a neurosurgeon consultation.

“I think part of the good relationship we’ve had with mom is that she’s always felt like she could call us about increasing pressure in the brain,” said Schwartz. “She’s the one who is going to be sensitive to changes in Mazie’s behavior. She’s part of the team, there’s no question.”

While it’s her team’s goal to connect with all of their patients, there seems to be something special about Mazie.

“Part of it is her force of personality,” said Schwartz. “She and her mom are just very engaging. We know her so well. Despite all that she’s been through, she’s just so positive. She’s our little princess.”

Today, Mazie is a happy, silly 5-year-old who smothers loved ones in hugs and kisses and enjoys playing with kittens and cell phones. Dwarfism, a condition also known as short stature, did lead to delays in her developmental milestones such as walking, talking and toilet training.

“Walking. Talking. Everything has taken longer. She’s limited to what she can do because of her stature, but she’s smart as a whip,” said Cherri, adding that Mazie is doing well but still goes to occupational therapy.

Team Approach Involves Experts in Wide Range of Fields

In many cases, people with dwarfism have orthopaedic or medical complications – and Mazie is no different. She’s seen by a variety of specialties at Cincinnati Children’s besides the Ophthalmology and Orthopaedics teams, including: Neurosurgery, Neurology, Otolaryngology / ENT, Human Genetics, and Pulmonary Medicine. 

Despite a nearly two-hour drive to Cincinnati from their home in Greenville, Ohio, Cherri said there’s no other hospital she’d even consider for her daughter.

“We drive past Dayton Children’s because I hold my trust in Cincinnati Children’s. We go to Cleveland for my husband’s heart, so I’m not afraid to travel for the best care,” said Cherri.

The fact that Cincinnati Children’s is consistently ranked among the top pediatric hospitals in the United States was part of the Riffell’s decision-making process, but by no means is it everything.

“Number one is experience. And they are rated the highest. I [also] go with my gut feeling,” said Cherri. “You go with the ratings and all of it. But if I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t stick around.”

As a Cincinnati Children’s patient five years running, Mazie continues to get the care her parents know she needs and will continue to need as she gets older.   

“In the eye clinic, they care for her like she’s the only patient. It’s not like you are one of 50 people who walked in the door that day. They give us love and attention, and we have needed it,” said Cherri.

(Published: February 2019)

What We Do Best

“One of the things that we do best at [Cincinnati] Children’s is that we approach kids as a team. It’s that cross talk across disciplines that allow kids to get their best care."  

- Terry L. Schwartz, MD, Pediatric Ophthalmologist

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The Division of Ophthalmology is a major pediatric referral center for diagnosing and treating eye diseases and injuries of all types from patients all around the world. To make an appointment, contact us at 513-636-4751.

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