PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Doctors didn't think he would survive as an infant. But against all odds, he did. And now he's saving other young lives.
It's not every day you see a doctor making hospital rounds with his service dog, but it's part of the routine in the pediatric unit at Singing River Hospital. The fact that Dr. Tyler Sexton has been able to reach his own dreams is giving hope to families when they need it most.
"I always wanted to be a doctor and to be able to give people hope in worst case scenarios," Dr. Sexton said.
You see, he understands worst case scenarios better than most. In 1986, he was born premature at 28 weeks. Both of his lungs collapsed and he spent the first three months of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit.
"They told my parents they would keep my body warm so they could hold me for the first and last time before they buried me."
But he survived. Then, as he got older, there was more discouraging news. He was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 18 months. His parents were told he would never walk or talk.
"At the time, my parents turned those stumbling blocks into stepping stones. And they dared me to dream."
He credits his parents' support and courage for much of his own success today. He believes they helped teach him an important lesson early in life.
"Everyone has a story. We're all fighting some sort of battle. We're all handicapped in some way. And ten percent of life is what happens to you and 90 percent is how you react to it."
Dr. Sexton's reaction is to never give up. He endured 16 surgeries, with his first major procedure at the age of four. Learning to walk, and then doing it was a major struggle. After breaking nearly every bone in his body from accidental falls over the years, he finally got his first service dog at age 18 to help him with balance, and his independence.
"I used to fall about four to six times a day, so he is my living cane. And since I've had a service dog, I haven't fallen at all."
He passed another hurdle getting into medical school. Dr. Sexton said 20 medical schools rejected his application, despite his high scores. One interviewer told him he could never be a physician "because people don't want a disabled doctor."
He proved everyone wrong. And today, with his new dog, he's able to make hospital rounds and share his awe inspiring experiences with families of the young patients he now treats. Families like the McCormicks from Hurley.
"When I share my story with parents, they're like, 'If that happened to this boy and he's okay, then there's hope for my son or daughter, too.'"
Dr. Sexton helped three-year-old Tinley McCormick overcome life threatening blockages in her intestines. Her father, Chris McCormick, said Dr. Sexton shares his amazing spirit with his patients.
"He's got this passion in his heart not to give up no matter how bad a shape they're in."
And that passion has given Chris and his wife, Taryn, hope during some dark times. Taryn said little Tinley is doing well, but still getting regular checkups for her ongoing health problems.
"He's such an inspiration. When I go through things with her, he makes me see things in a positive light."
Chris said it's easy to see how much Dr. Sexton's work means to him.
"He's not in it just to come to work. He's in it because he loves it and wants to make a difference with the kids."
Dr. Sexton hopes to continue to make a difference with a book he recently wrote with his mom.
"I used to wear braces on my legs as a child and my mom would massage my legs when she took them off at night and kiss my knees and say, 'God bless these little legs.' So we wrote a book basically about circumstances. They don't define you; you define yourself."
And now, life is coming full circle. Dr Sexton and his wife, who also works in pediatrics, have a 7-month-old baby of their own.
"Being a pediatrician doesn't make me a better father, but being a father makes me a better pediatrician."
And as he continues on his journey, he has no regrets about his own circumstances.
"If I didn't have Cerebral Palsy, I wouldn't appreciate the richness of learning how to walk. I wouldn't appreciate smaller blessings. Cerebral Palsy has taught me to look at those smaller blessings and appreciate them more, and that's what we build on. That's what life is all about."