Parenting an “Unhealthy” Child

Did you ever picture yourself in the shoes of a parent of unhealthy child? Me neither!

Last year, after our son’s second birthday, I came across an article entitled, “As Long As It’s Healthy… But What If It’s Not.” As I read through the article,  a wide range of emotions began to surface for me.

Back when my wife Tanya and I were expecting our first born, the idea that our baby would be born with any kind of health problem or defect was never even a thought. We’re both healthy people who have relatively healthy families, so when people asked us if we wanted a boy or girl, we often responded with, “We don’t care…as long as it’s healthy!” Then on that cold, rainy, November day when we were told that our unborn son wasn’t healthy, everything began to turn for the worse.

Or did it?

That day, we were given choices — choices no expecting family should have: compassionate care, termination, palliative surgeries. These scary words made our heads spin. It was the first time we were told that our unborn son may not survive until birth.  We were told that if he did survive, in addition to his many health complications, he would likely have developmental delays, learning disabilities, trouble eating and growing, and a number of other concerns.

No one ever wishes for an unhealthy baby. Even the thought of an unhealthy baby makes people uncomfortable. Is health important?  Of course. But the real importance may be in knowing that it’s not the only thing.

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Just because a person is labeled as having a disability or health complications, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have great ability! There are countless famous people who had, lived with, and excelled with physical and cognitive disabilities. Franklin D. Roosevelt, a president of the U.S, was paralyzed; Alexander Graham Bell created the telephone, but was learning disabled. Jim Abott, a professional baseball player, was born without a right hand! Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, and Benjamin Franklin are all heroes thought to have had a learning or cognitive disability.

Although those people with disabilities were all professionally successful, success doesn’t have to be measured just by money earned or fame gained — but more importantly, by the quality of life lived.

Now let’s fast forward almost 3 years from my son’s initial ultrasound. That “unhealthy child” who might not survive until birth, let alone run and play with other children, is a happy, spunky, pistol of a kid. Sure, he may never be the tallest in his class, he may never run a great mile time in gym class, and I guess I’ll have to face the fact he won’t play in the NFL.  But it’s because he was born with half a heart that I’m now better able to use my whole heart. He’s taught me that although he is unhealthy, he still possesses unlimited potential.

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To all the families of children with chronic medical needs and/or disabilities: we see your children for who they really are, and for what they can be. And we strive to help you make them all that they will be.

So next time you hear, as long as it is healthy, just remember: We don’t have to be healthy to be heroic.

Travis Lewis is a certified Physician Assistant and a certified Athletic Trainer.