Gabriel is a happy, charming, and resilient five-year-old from Massachusetts where he lives with his parents, Stephanie and Scott, and foster sister! Gabriel loves music, counting, and going on family vacations.
This month’s “A Smile is Music for the Soul” t-shirt design is inspired by Gabriel. Every purchase in October will help cover the cost of intensive therapy for Gabriel!
Back in Spring of 2016, Stephanie was working as a nurse at a pediatric rehab hospital where she crossed paths with a 5-month old baby named Gabriel. Over the next year, Stephanie worked closely with Gabriel as he went from a sick little premie to a kiddo with the most loving personality.
Reflecting on that time, Stephanie shares, “He has always had the sweetest smile, even as a tiny baby he had it. Initially, when he came, he was on so much medication from being in the NICU that he was pretty grumpy. When I worked night shifts, I would rock him as much as I could if he was awake and try to get him on my assignments for the day. When he started getting older and interacting more, I would go in and get him ready even if I wasn’t his nurse that day. I just loved being with him. The place where I work, we have a lot of kids who are there for a long time, so you naturally build professional relationships with the kids and their families.”
But things were different with Gabriel; the more Stephanie spent time with him, the more she wanted to be with him.
“It was around Christmas 2016 that I really started thinking about being his mom. I remember being at Christmas with my family and knowing that he was just going to be at the hospital, I thought, ‘I really wish I could just bring him home for Christmas to spend the day with my family,” Stephanie shares.
Shortly after, it was determined that Gabriel would need a foster home. Stephanie laughed as she retold the story, “My husband had already known that there was a little boy at the hospital that I had been connecting with. After it was determined that he would need a foster home, his nurse practitioner reached out to me right away and said ‘guess who really needs a home for real.’ At that point, I was already so invested in this little guy that I knew I had to take him home.”
Stephanie and her husband, Scott, reached out to Gabriel’s social worker and she walked them through the process of being able to take him home. In April 2017, Gabriel joined Stephanie and Scott’s family at 18 months old and later was adopted in February 2020.
While having a forever home was a joyous moment, Gabriel had been through a lot in his short life. Stephanie explains that while Gabriel presents having Cerebral Palsy, everything that makes Gabriel who he is today is a result of being born prematurely,
“Gabriel had Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), so he was born not breathing and had to be resuscitated, which resulted in a brain injury. In addition to that, he had to be intubated and put on a breathing tube which ended up damaging his airway and lungs. All of this has resulted in Gabriel who is now five-and-a-half years old and still has Chronic Lung disease from the breathing tube, Subglottic Stenosis caused from scarring in his airway, and Cerebral Palsy from multiple brain bleeds.”
Despite everything, Gabriel continues to get stronger every day. Stephanie explains that every year Gabriel grows new lung tissue, improving his Chronic Lung Disease,
“At one point, a common cold would land him in the ICU but now we can get through a cold at home, and sometimes we don’t even need oxygen.”
While some of Gabriel’s improvements have come naturally, the family has also had to make some tough decisions to improve Gabriel’s quality of life. In 2018, Gabriel had trachea reconstruction surgery, where doctors took cartilage from the ribs to rebuild his trachea that was damaged from the scarring.
Stephanie shares that, “For many kids with Gabriel’s condition, this would have led to the trach coming out. However, since Gabriel has underlying Cerebral Palsy, the resulted low muscle tone affects everything from how well he can cough or breathe when he sleeps. So right now we are in a discussion with his entire team of doctors to decide what is the best and safest plan for Gabriel moving forward about getting his trach removed.”
Along with having a trach, Gabriel also uses a wheelchair full-time, walks with a gait trainer, and is tube-fed. He recently started Kindergarten in September and goes to a private school for kids with disabilities where he gets a lot of therapies.
Stephanie dotingly shares that “When it comes to therapies, he is not a go-getter. He will do it and go through the motions, but will also give you a side-eye the whole time. He is a ‘work smarter, not harder’ type of kid. If you give him support, he just melts right into you. He would rather snuggle than do his therapy.”
On top of therapy at school and weekly physical therapy, the family has seen Gabriel make a lot of progress with intensive therapy.
“Even though we have to pay out of pocket, we try to do intensive therapies a few times a year. They are three weeks at a time, four hours a day. We have seen so much progress every single time.”
When Gabriel isn’t in school or at therapy, you can find him playing on his iPad or with his younger sister.
“He loves to travel and relax, and we love giving him experiences that make him happy because unfortunately, he has to work hard for everything. Life is not easy for him, so giving him exposure to things he loves is important to us,” Stephanie shares.
Time to get loud shouters!
Throughout the month of October we will be shouting loud for Gabriel!
So click here to shop now where every purchase in October will help Gabriel continue intensive therapy.
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