LAKEWOOD RANCH — As Ryan Roman sits in a chair in his living room, his newborn daughter rests in his arms.
Ryan Roman dreamed a moment like this would one day come, but until Giavanna Jayne Nicole Roman was born at 10:26 a.m. Aug. 6, he and his wife, Christine, never were certain.
At 28 years old, Ryan has been battling cancer since 2005. Doctors have said his condition — one that has left him paralyzed from the waist down — one day will kill him, but they don’t know how soon.
“I was just mesmerized,” Ryan said of seeing his daughter for the first time.
Doctors diagnosed Ryan Roman with ependymoma, a condition where cancerous tumors develop in the spinal canal and brain, in March 2005, after an accident resulted in back pain so severe Ryan could hardly walk. He lost feeling in his legs, which caused him to fall in the shower. That night, an emergency-room MRI revealed cancer in his spinal column.
“That’s where it all started,” Ryan Roman said, noting he stayed in the hospital for nearly two months after his surgery to remove the cancer. “I had to learn to walk again.”
Ryan reunited with Christine, an old high school friend, in September 2007, and the couple quickly became inseparable.
“It just was what it was,” Christine said of learning about Ryan’s battle with cancer. “He was really open about it. There was no sign of (his cancer) ever coming back.”
Ryan added: “They said the cancer was rare. There wasn’t very much information about it.”
But in November 2008, Ryan’s pain returned — this time in his neck. An MRI confirmed the fear his cancer had returned. Ryan underwent several subsequent procedures and surgeries to remove cancers and to repair spinal fluid leaks throughout 2009 and 2010.
And knowing his pending chemotherapy treatments could affect his future fertility, Ryan banked his sperm in May 2009.
“I knew I wanted to have kids,” Ryan Roman said.
Christine and Ryan began talking about children in October 2009, and the couple married Feb. 6, 2010. Christine had her first consultation with Lakewood Ranch Medical Center’s Dr. Julio Pabon in April 2010. After two failed intrauterine inseminations, the couple opted for an in-vitro fertilization treatment in November 2010.
“We got a Gia bean,” Christine says, smiling at her newborn.
Ryan, who will care for Giavanna once Christine starts back to work in a few weeks, already is getting proficient at changing diapers, feeding the baby and handling other day-to-day newborn-related tasks from his wheelchair.
“It’s a miracle, right there,” Ryan says, eyes tearing up as he looks at his little girl. “It’s awesome to have just one thing work out.”
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Lakewood Ranch Medical Center’s Dr. Julio Pabon commended the Romans’ foresight in banking Ryan’s sperm prior to his chemotherapy treatments.
Chemotherapy, he said, can negatively affect sperm counts and can make individuals sterile permanently.
“Chemotherapy can affect the ovaries and the testicles, and it can be long-term,” Pabon said. “(The Romans’ story) is a patient-awareness story. You have a young couple facing a horrible diagnosis, and they had the foresight to freeze sperm. Cancer patients should not only think about surviving cancer, but their future fertility.”