Little but Mighty

At a mere 21 weeks into her pregnancy, Tracey went into labor.

Because she was only at the halfway point of a typical full-term pregnancy and the baby was unlikely to survive if delivered, the doctors postponed Tracey’s labor and placed her on bed rest.

Tracey and the baby’s father, Juan, were warned by doctors to brace themselves for the possibility their baby could suffer long-term developmental delays and disabilities due to prematurity.

“In the back of our minds, all we could really focus on at that point was getting through the delivery and getting him here safely. But we knew potentially we were facing a real uphill battle,” Tracey said.

Five weeks later, at 26 weeks gestation, Tracey went into labor again. This time, she gave birth to a little but mighty baby boy they named Gabe.

After four months in the hospital, hooked up to wires, tubes and monitors of all kinds, Gabe was released to go home. But as time progressed, Tracey and Juan began noticing Gabe’s lack of growth and inability to keep up developmentally with others his age. It was then they discovered an early intervention preschool that is part of United Way supported St. Mary’s Special Services for Exceptional Children.

“What really interested me [about St. Mary’s] was the fact the disabilities and all developmental concerns would be addressed, and I thought that it would be a one-stop-shop for us,” Tracey said. “But I didn’t really understand or appreciate how much that meant until later.”

With an exhaustive list of obstacles at just 14 months old, Gabe began seeing a nutritionist, behaviorist and a physical and occupational therapist—all provided by St. Mary’s. The United Way funded sessions began at Gabe’s home and eventually evolved into Gabe attending the preschool where he was continually provided their on-site assistance.

Molly McCue, Director of St. Mary’s, recalled first meeting Gabe. “I remember thinking he truly is a preemie by every standard, and we have our work cut out for us.”

With determination and a great support system, Gabe gave it his all and proved to be victorious despite the odds against him.

“He came into the world fighting, and I feel like he just doesn’t stop,” Tracey said.

“He did everything the way it was supposed to be done—worked hard, had great people involved with him, succeeded at everything and even surpassed expectations; both his parents and ours,” Molly said. “It doesn’t get better than that. He is a success story in every sense of the word.”

Now a handsome five-year old, Gabe’s still quite small in size, but is doing everything a child his age is expected to and more. It’s hard to believe this spunky, determined little guy, who taught himself how to ride a bike without training wheels at age 3, was once fighting for his life with his development in questioning. Molly put it simply, “He’s little, but he’s mighty.”

And it’s true. Gabe has met and exceeded all his long-term goals and is preparing to graduate St. Mary’s before attending kindergarten this fall. His teachers know it will be difficult parting ways, but they are confident he’s ready and couldn’t be more proud.

“He’ll be going completely and totally on his own, no assistance—that’s amazing. If someone would’ve told me that when he first came here, I would’ve thought it impossible,” Molly said with admiration.

Looking back on how far Gabe has come thanks to the help of St. Mary’s, Tracey said she can’t thank them enough.

“It has been an absolute blessing for us. I’m going to miss them terribly when we leave, but we wouldn’t be leaving if it weren’t for everything they’ve done for us. I would do it all over again in a heartbeat if I knew this is what I was going to get in the end.”

About St. Mary’s Special Services for Exceptional Children

St. Mary’s Special Services for Exceptional Children provide early intervention therapies, inclusionary child care and preschool education for children through age six. They have been a United Way funded agency since 1991.