6-year-old San Diegan fighting cancer and COVID-19

Layla Mahoney in Moderna vaccine trial for kids while fighting brain tumor
Layla Mahoney
Layla after Moderna vaccine 1.jpg
Posted at 5:51 PM, Oct 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-18 21:37:26-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — In just days, the FDA could approve the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children as young as 5.

For some families, whose children are immunocompromised, that news can’t come soon enough.

At the same time, Moderna is currently conducting its own trial for children ages 6 to 11. A trial that includes a San Diego family whose child is not only in a fight against COVID-19, but cancer as well.

Layla Mahoney and her parents are spending a perfect San Diego day on a boat with Waterhorse Charters. Seemingly not a care in the world for a 6-year-old with eyes wide open to new discoveries.

“She’s a very curious, very active mind," says her father Shawn Mahoney. "And I said, ‘You know what, Layla’s going to see the world.' And I want to see it through her eyes."

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There is a sense of urgency in Shawn's tone. An environmental and marine photographer by trade, he and his wife, Mariel, have already taken their daughter, Layla, on adventures most of us only dream of. But they also know every second counts in her young life.

“I’m the ever optimist and I’m going to continue to be that way,” says Layla's mother, Mariel.

This summer, Layla was diagnosed with a very rare form of brain cancer. She’s already been through two surgeries, now undergoes Proton therapy daily, and will start chemotherapy in December.

“It’s important for us to keep her as safe as possible and others around that are immunocompromised,” adds Mariel.

Which brings us to yet another uncharted journey in Layla’s young life. She’s among the few thousand children nationwide taking part in Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine trial for kids aged 6 to 11. Layla is one of only 60 children chosen for the trial in San Diego County. How she got into the trial was its own adventure.

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“The past two months have been, life-changing is an understatement,” adds Shawn.

Months before Layla was ever diagnosed, Shawn and Mariel did their research on the COVID-19 vaccines for children. Feeling comfortable with what they learned, they volunteered Layla for the Moderna trail. But before she was accepted, the headaches started.

“If she had that diagnosis come in, it would have been an instant disqualification,” says Mariel.

Layla went through a battery of tests, an agonizing amount of time to determine the cause of her headaches. But ultimately that time allowed Layla to be accepted into the Modern vaccine trial for children. She received her first shot, and 10 minutes later during the car ride home Shawn received a phone call from the hospital, she had a rare tumor and needed surgery immediately.

“I just started laughing at the irony, the timing," says Shawn. "And just how made to be it all felt.”

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Made to be, because as Layla’s chemotherapy progresses it will weaken her natural immunities. A fever after her second shot makes the Mahoneys feel as if she received the actual vaccine and not the placebo. And with the concern from experts that COVID cases will rise this winter, a vaccine for Layla could help save her life.

“The doctors have said overwhelmingly that every extra layer of protection is absolutely, positively going to help her,” says Shawn.

And so, the journey into the unknown continues but with optimism and hope. A father hoping to see the world through his daughter’s eyes. A daughter hoping to share in her father’s adventures, and what she loves most.

“Scuba diving!" says Layla with excitement.

Here's to many underwater adventures in the years to come.

A GoFundMe page has been created in Layla's name with most of the proceeds going to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, and to animal non-profits of Layla’s choice. In just a matter of weeks that page is already three-quarters of the way to its goal of raising $100,000. If you would like to donate to the fundraiser, click here.