A mom gets support and gains confidence - and her son is thriving!
|Above: Gabe (on slide) with his brother, Ben, and physical therapist, Kim.|
Anna’s pregnancy was completely normal. “I had no indication anything was wrong until I found myself having to pull over on the side of the road when my contractions started unexpectedly at about the 24-week mark,” she says. “I was alone in my car and it was terrifying. I was rushed to the hospital and Gabe appeared about 90 minutes later, weighing only 1 ½ pounds.” The complications from his birth were life-threatening: bleeding in the brain, underdeveloped lungs, a hole in the heart, and a bowel perforation.
Gabe was only three days old when his doctors approached Anna and Efiz. “They told us that his prognosis was uncertain. If he survived, there was no way to know how severe his condition might be – anywhere in the range of a mild learning delay to cerebral palsy. They wanted to know what measures, if any, we as his parents wanted them to take to keep him alive.”
It was an agonizing time for Anna and her husband, Efiz. “Gabe was taken to Seattle Children's and placed in the NICU. We could touch him only through the incubator, ever so gently and only for a brief time after scrubbing up.”
After seven months in the hospital, Gabe came home. “As wonderful as that was, it was also overwhelming in a whole new way,” Anna says. “He was still on oxygen when he came home, as well as a NG (nasogastric) tube for feeding. I had to quit my job in order to care for him and his brother (7 year old Ben). Efiz had to go back to work. We both struggled with stress and depression.”
Their introduction to Early Intervention services at Children's Therapy Center made a big difference. “Having people come to us – to our house – instead of having to go to them was huge,” she says. “I didn’t have to pack up all Gabe’s equipment and take him anywhere for a change. And our therapists didn’t just help Gabe, they helped me, too. There were so many days when I’d be overwhelmed dealing with medical stuff and they’d ask, ‘How are you doing?’ and I would just say, ‘I’m not.’” They listened and gave me support – it was incredible. They helped me see little milestones and reminded me we were getting somewhere.”
Karen, one of Gabe’s physical therapists, describes how her partnership with Gabe’s family helped him meet major milestones. “When I first met Gabe, we worked on helping him hold his head up and roll while trying not to get tangled in all his tubes. We helped him sit alone in his highchair, and experimented with different ways for him to successfully take a few sips of formula. I watched Anna gain confidence in moving Gabe and trying new things with him. She began trusting herself and Gabe to decide what was important and what worked for them.”
In addition to helping Gabe learn to walk, eat, and talk, his therapists included Gabe’s brother, Ben, in therapy. In fact, Karen credits Ben with helping Gabe learn to walk. “Gabe had been so close to walking on his own, but we just couldn't push past a couple independent steps at a time,” she says. “Ben was a big motivator, as usual, and when he and Anna stepped out of the room at one point, Gabe just walked after them – across the room, out the door, and down the hallway! Clearly, he was not going to be left out or left behind. My heart was too full to say anything. I could only look at Anna as we both blinked back tears and tried to not disrupt the magic of this moment.”
With support from Gabe’s therapists, Anna has successfully incorporated therapy at home. “It’s often in the daily things you do,” she says. “Walking up and down the stairs with him to build his strength and endurance. Waiting for him to use words to request things instead of just gesturing. It’s really just about making conscious choices to incorporate therapy whenever you can.”
One of the biggest milestones thus far? “We’ve been able to check off doctors!” Anna says. “We’re down to just a handful now, which is awesome for us! But honestly, one of the biggest things I’ve learned is to not worry about the milestones,” she says. “Early on, one of his doctors said to me, ‘Gabe has his own story and he’ll tell it when he’s ready.’ I’ve never forgotten that. When Gabe finally decided to start walking, he didn’t just walk – he walked and he stomped!”