“The doctor handed over a weak, blue, small 2-month-old newborn boy weighing just over 7 pounds, telling me to ‘take him home, love him, and feed him,’ since this might be a different story in a few days!” I was terrified to bring a baby home for the first time in my life!
Eric and I said “I do” on a fall day in 1996, eager to begin our forever together. We settled into our freshly remodeled home and began making plans to start a family, specifically two children. We had always intended to have only two children, and that is exactly what occurred… a beautiful baby boy first, followed by a gorgeous baby girl. We were a whole, perfect little family by 2000, living in the suburbs and living the fairy tale life.
But a few years later, Eric was listening to a radio show called ‘Focus on the Family,’ and they were talking about raising children with special needs, and Eric felt strongly in his heart that we should have another child. So, in 2005, we welcomed another gorgeous baby boy, followed by another beautiful baby girl a year later! We had become a full family!
Then came the day when we relocated from the suburbs to the heart of the country—a smaller home with plenty of space for the kids to run around and play. Our home was crowded, and our lives were hectic, but our hearts were tugging us to help someone in our town who was in desperate need. Foster care is an option! Caring for children who had been separated from everyone and everything they had ever known through no fault of their own.
However, I was apprehensive. My parents had been foster parents for a long time, and I knew how difficult it was for biological children. I was well aware of how much time and attention the foster kids required, which took time away from my siblings and me, and I could only imagine the impact on our children, whom God had blessed us with.
So we spoke about, prayed about, and investigated foster care for two years. We discovered that there were much more children in the system than there were foster parents to care for them and that the number of children entering care was increasing as a result of the drug pandemic. The need was great, so we started classes after talking it over with our kids. We were licensed to Foster to Adopt in 2014, and we took in our first placement of two children the same day our license was finalized.
Whether we were ready or not, we became foster parents.
It was February of 2017, and we had already had several care placements and were considered experienced foster parents. We had a good working connection with the caseworkers and supervisors at Children Services, and they recognized which children best suited our family. Not every child and foster family are a good match, and for a child to thrive in care, the correct foster family must be found. When a call came in one night after we had recently surrendered a lovely baby girl we had loved and cared for for the past year for a reunion, we were finishing dinner. ‘Leanne, our baby son is two months old and is failing to thrive. He’s in the hospital, and we’re wondering if you could take him.’ ‘YES! ‘Of course,’ we replied quickly. ‘Thank you, the caseworker will contact you when he is ready to leave the hospital,’ says the caseworker.
Unknowingly, that phone call would impact our lives forever!
Eric and I couldn’t wait for the caseworker to call, so we went to the hospital. We were brought to a room where a caseworker sat holding a baby when we arrived. I’d never seen somebody like him before. He had turned blue! Most infants are pink, but this one is blue. His skin was bare, revealing all of his body’s tiny veins. He didn’t have any fat on his slender bones. His head was enormous, and the soft areas’ were egregiously visible, not to mention the sutures where his skull joined together. He was in such a sad state. He was small, fragile, and unmoving, and he seemed like an extraterrestrial. I know that doesn’t sound very pleasant, but that was the only word I could think of to describe it. I was afraid to hold him when the caseworker handed him over, but I knew Eric, and I would fight with everything we had to keep him safe as soon as I did.
As the caseworker began to tell us about his case, my large, powerful husband’s eyes welled up with tears. He was famished. Because they had other things to do, like sleep or went to work, the individuals who brought him into this world opted not to feed him. He’d just returned from a ten-day stay at a prestigious children’s hospital, where he’d been diagnosed with Non-Organic Failure to Thrive. NOFTT meant he didn’t have any medical issues that would prevent him from gaining weight. He gained 11 ounces during that period, demonstrating his ability to acquire weight, but things worsened when he was removed from the hospital.
Following his lengthy stay, the hospital assigned a visiting nurse to see him every other day, and on her first visit, she saw him sleeping in a bouncy seat. His diaper was soiled, filthy, and coated in cat and dog hair. The chart that was supposed to keep track of his feedings had been left blank. The nurse requested a bottle since she was not leaving until he was fed. The biological mother went to the refrigerator and took out a cold bottle, which she handed to the nurse to feed him. The nurse informed him that the bottle was very cold for him and requested that she warm it. ‘If he’s hungry, he’ll eat it,’ she said sarcastically. As a result, the nurse began to feed him a cold bottle to feed him, and he ate. She ended her visit, walked out to her car, and dialed 911. She had no idea that the baby’s nurse practitioner would call Children Services the next day.
A female detective answered that call. As a mother herself, she saw that she was witnessing a life-or-death situation and escorted him out of the house. That day, Detective M saved his life! She gathered evidence and initiated a neglect case. Even though she understood what she saw was abuse, she had no idea what we would discover.
We were terrified the night we brought that precious baby home. We’d just been told he could die and that if he didn’t get medical care, he’d be dead in a few days! On the growth chart, his weight put him in the.001 percentile. That night, we began providing love and care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. His little stomach could only tolerate a half-ounce of formula every feeding. As a result, we had to set alarms for him to be fed every two hours around the clock. The catch: he could only eat for half an hour because he worked so hard and expended so much energy that if he ate for much longer, he would begin to burn more calories than he could consume. So, despite our first thoughts to let him eat till he was satisfied, we couldn’t, and he wouldn’t.
On the first night, he struggled to finish his half-ounce meals. He was completely spent. We had to wake him up for every feed because he slept. He never cried throughout his life. He was never awakened to eat on his own. He couldn’t do it. That is what it means to fail to thrive. When a child’s calls for help go unheeded, they stop weeping. They lose their sensation of hunger when their hungry bellies are not satisfied. They lose muscle mass and body fat when they don’t get enough nutrients. Their tiny bodies cannot control their body temperature due to a lack of body fat. They surrender their will to fight and their desire to live. We weren’t going to give up on that precious baby boy just because he had given up. His half-ounce gradually grew to 3/4 ounce, then one ounce, and so on.
Once a week, he had a visiting nurse, and once a week, we took him to his pediatrician to be weighed and checked over. We also had a baby scale that we had to use daily to weigh him. He was eating and gaining weight, but something wasn’t quite right. He was like a rag doll with no actual muscle tone. His arms and legs were dangling by his sides, and he couldn’t control his head… His head continued to expand. His eyes were vacant, almost as if he were blind when he had the energy to stay awake. He was still not sobbing or making any sounds. We communicated our concerns to the nurse the following week and told her we would be discussing them with his pediatricians. She listened intently and inquired if we had ever heard of Shaken Baby Syndrome when finished.
Shaken Baby Syndrome, you know… NEVER EVER SHAKE A BABY! We quickly did some online research and then called his nurse practitioner. We explained everything to the nurse and waited for someone to contact us back with instructions on what to do next while she was on vacation. The phone rang again later that evening. It was Emily, his nurse practitioner. She stated she had been praying and thinking about this precious newborn boy while sitting on the beach, and she had had the same impression. Shaken Baby Syndrome is a condition that occurs when a baby is shaken. She requested an MRI as well as an Ultra Sound. The same hospital where he had previously been would contact him and arrange everything.
He was placed under, and a comprehensive MRI of his huge head was done a month after we first held that frail baby. He had to stay the night because he was a high risk. We tucked ourselves up for the night, prayed for answers, and awaited the outcome. A group of white jackets entered the room the next morning. I’d never seen so many doctors in one place before. They began by telling us that the MRI revealed blood in both of his brain’s ventricles (the center section of the brain) and blood behind his eyes. The bleeds appeared to be caused by non-accidental head trauma. There was blood that was newer and blood that was older.
They needed to run a comprehensive skeleton scan to check for breaks or fractures in his little frame. We awaited the findings once more and were relieved to learn that his bone structure had not been injured. On that day, we spoke with several experts who began to tell us more about what was to come. More MRIs, EEGs, EKGs, CT scans, appointments, therapists, and other tests are on the way. We didn’t have much time to process everything because we needed to focus on getting more answers about what had happened to this lovely newborn boy and who had done it. And we had to do it swiftly because reunification was still the goal in his instance. That adorable baby was forced to go to visitations twice a week with individuals who were almost certainly his abusers.
We could fill you in on many details, but the bottom line is that all of the details lead Detective M to a confession. Baby child, you see, was weeping because he was hungry. He needed to be fed, and his biological father decided that his sobbing was annoying him, so he grabbed that precious young boy by the rib cage, shook him several times, and flung him on the couch. He then jumped off the couch and landed on the ground. ‘Well, he stopped weeping,’ the man said when the Detective inquired what occurred next.
He then described how his eyes rolled to the back of his head, and he experienced a seizure. But, because he didn’t want to go into trouble, he didn’t call 911. ‘Well, he gets frustrated occasionally,’ his wife said when told all the circumstances. Oh, and she realized something was wrong with that adorable young boy, but she finally decided to give him a bottle and leave him alone. And that woman, the one who gave birth to him, stood by that abuser even during the criminal trial, where his abuser was sentenced to four years in prison a year and a half after we first held that lovely baby boy. That little youngster was destined for a life of handicaps.
Now we’ll get to the good part of the narrative. That lovely infant boy was well-loved and well-cared for. That brave little guy fought valiantly. Not only did we feed him when we brought him home, but we also held him. He was detained 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He was wrapped around my neck during the day, so he could hear my heartbeat and feel my skin on his cheeks. He began therapy at the age of four months. Feeding requires occupational, physical, and speech therapy. He couldn’t hold his head up for months, and at a year old, he couldn’t even sit up on his own, let alone walk.
We were fortunate to locate specialists who were willing to fight alongside us. They assured us that they would not tell us what he could or could not do but rather allow him to tell us. They claimed that the brain is a wonderful creation and that neuroplasticity is a fascinating science that enables the brain to recover. And, even though he sustained a TBI (traumatic brain injury) that resulted in brain damage, the brain has the power to reformat.
He was diagnosed with Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy at the age of two, which he will have for the rest of his life. He also has dysphagia, which limits his ability to eat and swallow. Therefore he is being formula-fed to meet his nutritional requirements. He is also dyspraxic. Thus his speech is slurred. His brain knows what he wants to say, but his muscles aren’t always able to express it. At the age of two and a half, he began walking with the assistance of special bracing. Every day, he works hard, fights, and expends absurd amounts of energy. He has days when his body is exhausted, and he spends most of the day on the couch. He may not be able to keep up with his peers, but he is content! He is unconcerned about his distinctions and does not allow them to deter him.
He has spent a lot of time in hospitals in his brief life. He is a danger of illness due to his various skills, and it is difficult for him to fight off those illnesses, so when he does get sick, he gets sick and ends up in the hospital. He always appears to take things in stride, and the hospital staff adores him since he smiles through everything. All of his therapists and physicians have fallen in love with him. Many people have recently told us that they never expected he would be where he is now. They all indicated they didn’t expect him to do much, even though they didn’t place a limit on what he could do. He has outperformed their expectations by a long shot. LOVE and nutrition have the power to transform a person’s life.
Now comes the most exciting portion of the story. The courts ruled and gave the county permanent custody of that sweet baby boy just before Thanksgiving and his 3rd birthday last year, after a lot of testimony, tears, prayers, and hard work by passionate, caring caseworkers, and just before Thanksgiving and his 3rd birthday last year, that sweet baby boy forever became our child. Our fifth kid, Easton Matthew Stadler, was born. God knew we needed a child! Many people believe he is fortunate to have us, but we don’t agree. We are extremely fortunate to have him. We never anticipated that 15 years ago, after listening to a radio broadcast about raising special needs children, we’d be sharing our hearts and homes with an incredible little boy we get to call our son!”