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Robert Welton Clement arrived on March 25, 2014, fourth son to the family of my sister Jean and her husband Reuel. The birth was unexpectedly difficult, and Robert arrived looking like he might not survive – might, in fact, already be no longer living. But his heartbeat was there, even though he was not breathing. Eighteen agonizing minutes of emergency intervention and innumerable prayers followed. Then the miracle: Robert took his first breath. He would live, but with severe brain damage.
Robert was admitted to the NICU and his parents took stock. Their dreams and hopes for a healthy younger sibling in their lively household had been shattered. Later, my sister told me, “Suddenly our long-awaited newborn was in critical condition and our future filled with unknowns and challenges. But we knew that Robert had been perfectly created by God for our family and that we would love him exactly how he is and will be no matter what.”
Each milestone felt like a miracle. The first time he opened his eyes. The first time he sucked and swallowed. The first time he lifted his head. His first smile.
For his two-year-old brother Josiah, loving Robert just as he is was never in question. Robert was “my baby” even before Josiah laid eyes on him. For his twin brothers in kindergarten, Robert’s g-tube and full-body startle reactions were clearly something different from other babies, but their status as big brothers for this new little guy was a matter of great pride.
Fast forward over the first stressful months of limited sleep and the tough transition from feeding tube to bottles. Now Robert is approaching 11 months and is included in his community’s daycare of typically developing children. And the big day came when he got his Rifton Prone Stander.
‘Standing’ at 25” tall, Robert allowed himself to be positioned upright, in a forward-leaning angle. The small Prone Stander accommodates him with the sandal wedges stacked up high and the knee laterals serving as trunk supports. Robert surprised everyone by putting weight through his feet, and then bracing himself with his arms on the tray in order to hold his head up and look around at his dad and mom, and his brothers who didn’t want to miss the moment.
And what a moment. My sister Jean’s eyes filled with tears as she said, “I knew I loved Rifton, but now I really love Rifton! I can see what a difference a product can make for a child’s life.” Now Robert’s postural position will help him maintain and gain leg flexibility and strength and give him a reason to hold his head up. And he will have a vantage point other than the floor or his crib to watch the activities of his peers.
In an instant, his peers were there. Hearing the cheers for Robert, the kids from the neighboring classrooms begged their teachers to go see what was happening. As they poured into the room, Robert kept his head up, looking around. All told, he stayed in the stander close to 25 minutes.
Go, Robert! We can’t wait for your next surprise for us. And we couldn’t be more proud of you. You’re a celebration, all the way.
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