WILLIAMSPORT – Megan E. Rogers has preached to her son who is blind that there is nothing he can’t do; he just might have to discover a different way to do it.
For proof, she can point to herself.
The Pennsylvania College of Technology employee and single mom of two wasn’t blessed with writing experience, but that didn’t prevent her from authoring a recently published children’s book. For Rogers, maternal love proved more valuable than a background rooted in prose.
The result is “Meet Mason,” a 32-page illustrated book inspired by her 9-year-old son who has been blind since birth. The text – written from Mason’s perspective – and color illustrations of the youngster in various settings are designed to help kids relate to those who are blind or have other special needs.
“Kids have so many questions for Mason,” said Rogers, who is a part-time information desk assistant at the college’s Student & Administrative Services Center. “They want to know about his cane. Why does he wear glasses when he can’t see? How does he read? The book answers questions about Mason and explains what makes him uniquely special.”
The other main character is Mason’s brother and best friend, Christopher, who was born just 10 months after Mason. The two are depicted playing at a park and riding a tandem bicycle.
“Christopher is the definition of ‘my brother’s keeper,’” Rogers said. “He’s such a big help. Since he was able to walk, he’s always been helping Mason. He has such empathy for people who have special needs or are different in some way.”
Empathy, rather than pity, is the book’s theme. Text on the last page punctuates that distinction as Mason is shown playing keyboards in a rock band fronted by friends: “You can tell by the smile I always have on my face that I am happy, so please don’t ever feel sorry for me. I just want you to understand me so we can be friends.”
Rogers, a Williamsport native, conceived the book when Mason went to kindergarten and queries about his blindness became commonplace. By that time, he was already known by some as “A Miracle Named Mason.”
Shortly after birth, Mason was life-flighted from UPMC Williamsport to Penn State Health Children’s Hospital in Hershey due to heart defects. Doctors also diagnosed glaucoma and other ailments. The 28 days in Hershey included successful treatment of one heart defect and eye surgery to release the pressure caused by glaucoma.
More medical ordeals would follow. At 18 months, Mason underwent open heart surgery to close a hole in the wall that separates the two upper chambers of his heart. When he was 6, he overcame two potentially fatal conditions – severe septic shock and twisting of the small intestine – during a 40-day nightmare at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville.
“The doctors didn’t sugarcoat anything for me,” Rogers recalled. “They had little to no hope. Thank God they were able to put him back together. Mason had a long, slow recovery with ups and downs. He had to relearn how to walk and eat. It’s really a miracle that he’s here today.”
Two years earlier, genetic testing at the Wills Eye Institute in Philadelphia confirmed that Mason has Lenz Microphthalmia Syndrome, an extremely rare condition that adversely affects a person’s eyes and body systems. The National Organization for Rare Disorders reports only about a dozen cases.
In addition to blindness, it’s believed the syndrome is responsible for Mason’s heart issues and his delayed cognitive and physical development.
“The blessing is that no matter what Mason goes through, he has a smile on his face. He’s always happy,” Rogers said, breaking into her own smile.
Mason’s cheerful disposition is conveyed in the book along with his love of music, walks and the outdoors. Besides Christopher, other important people in Mason’s life are depicted, including his aide at school, vision therapist, godmother and grandmother.
Rogers crafted the book’s text about two years ago before conducting an online search for an illustrator. That’s how she discovered Argentina-based Marina Saumell, who has illustrated 45 children’s books during the past 14 years.
“Something spoke to me about her work, and I was determined to get her,” Rogers said. “At first, her price wasn’t in my budget, so I saved.”
When funds allowed, Rogers sent her the manuscript and more than two dozen photos of Mason and friends. About two months later, the colored illustrations were in hand.
“I did my best to portray Mason as he really is while creating colorful and funny illustrations,” Saumell said. “Some of them are more realistic than others. I had the opportunity to create more imaginary scenes that helped me show his feelings. I truly hope this helps people connect to Mason and his story.”
One of the illustrations is of Mason and his mom walking in front of the college’s Breuder Advanced Technology & Health Sciences Center on a beautiful day. The scene captures the building’s fountain and some of the welding sculptures that populate the campus mall.
“I always research the location where my clients live so I can create familiar places for the settings – in this case, the college campus,” Saumell said. “I think this gives the story a sense of belonging.”
“Marina exceeded my expectations for the illustrations,” Rogers said. “The illustrations are so lifelike. I cried. I felt like I was looking at my children. She put so much detail into the illustrations, like each one was made with love. I cannot thank her enough.”
Early feedback regarding the book has been emotional. “A couple people who read it told me that it made them cry,” Rogers said.
Sue A. Mahaffey is one of those individuals.
“I was in awe of how beautifully and perfectly Megan related and illustrated Mason’s story and the boys’ relationship,” said Mahaffey, coordinator of enrollment management operations and Rogers’ supervisor. “I am tremendously proud of Megan and admire her hard work, dedication and creativity. She is truly an inspiration, and it’s wonderful to see this kind and compassionate woman fulfill her dream of sharing Mason’s story in an effort to educate others.”
The book’s central character is thrilled with its publication and requests daily readings.
“Mason smiles from ear to ear when we talk about the book,” Rogers said. “He gets excited when he hears some of his favorite pages. Mason has a speech delay, but when you ask him the name of the book, he says, ‘Meet Mason’ with pure joy!”
“Meet Mason” is available for order via Amazon. Rogers hopes to use the book’s proceeds to start a foundation dedicated to assisting single parents of children who have special needs.
“My children and I have faced so many obstacles on our journey, but we have been so incredibly blessed as well,” Rogers said. “I want to be a blessing to others who may walk our path.”
Rogers has no experience building a foundation, but as “Meet Mason” proves, she will find a way.