DARKE COUNTY — The Ambassador Child for this year’s Darke County March for Babies is 13-year-old Gabriel Stevens, son of Kurt and Michelle Baker and Jeramie and Cindi Stevens, all of Greenville.
Gabriel said he was a preemie at birth.
“My mom had high blood pressure when she was pregnant with me, so I had no choice but to be born six weeks early,” he wrote in a letter. “I was very small…only three 3 pounds. As soon as I was born, I was put in an incubator and put in an ambulance and rushed to the NICU at The Children’s Medical Center in Dayton. After three weeks there in the NICU, I weighed 4 pounds, was a little more healthy and I got to come home with my mom and dad.”
He said once home, he had visits from the Darke County Help Me Grow Program to make sure he didn’t fall too far behind from things that other babies his age could do.
“If it weren’t for the great doctors and nurses in the NICU at The Children’s Medical Center and all of the testing and programs that the March of Dimes support, I might not be here,” he wrote. “Today, I am in the seventh grade. I love running on the junior high cross country team and playing video games. I am in advanced math and science classes at the junior high school. Today, I am healthy and smart,…and my mom and dad are proud of how far I’ve come from my early beginning.”
“Gabriel was born six weeks early (34 weeks and 5 days) because I was diagnosed with Pregnancy Induced Hypertension,” said his mother Michelle, who is an accounting technician at GTI. “At about my 20-week check up, they found that I had really high blood pressure. They knew at that time that I would not carry a full-term baby, but I don’t think that we were prepared for how early. They started having me come in for regular check-ups to make sure everything was okay. Each appointment was the same, my blood pressure was always very high. Gabriel’s dad went with me to every check-up that I had. At about 30 weeks, they made me take off work to stay at home on bed rest until Gabriel was born.”
Michelle said when she went in at 34 weeks for a check-up, she went by herself.
“They finally did an ultrasound and they found that Gabriel had stopped growing probably about a month before. He had no fluid around him and was very small,” she recalled. “My OB called a colleague at MVH and they thought it was best for me and my baby that I get induced. Our pastor had come to the hospital to pray with us and for our baby. Our parents were there. Everyone was waiting on him! I was admitted into UVMC on Oct. 7, 2002, at 9 a.m. At 7:32 p.m., Gabriel was born…3 pounds 10 ounces. He was a little blue and not crying – we were terrified.”
The hospital staff, she said, was ready for his emergency birth.
“All of the doctors and nurses, and even the pediatrician we decided to start using were there and present,” Michelle said. “They also had The Children’s Medical Center in Dayton on call and they had sent over an ambulance for him as they knew that UVMC was not equipped to take care of Gabriel. About an hour after he was born, the staff at Children’s brought him in my room to see me in his incubator so that I could reach my hand in and touch him for the first time. And then they put him in the back of the squad and off he went to the NICU. They gave me a doll to sleep with while I was in the hospital so that I could get my scent all over it. So the first time I went to see him, they put that in his incubator and he could smell his mommy!”
Her infant, according to her, was in the NICU for three weeks … he was off all of his monitors and tubes and weighed 4 pounds, so they were able to bring him home.
Michelle said she has been affiliated with March of Dimes, when she used to walk in it back a few years ago when it was still 12 miles.
“But, I started participating more frequently again once I began working at GTI in 2012,” she said.
She said Gabriel is doing well.
“He is in the advanced math and science classes at the Greenville Junior High School, she said. “He runs on the Greenville Junior High School Cross Country teams and Track team. He has no restrictions. He has been pretty lucky with having no major medical issues due to his premature birth. He is on no special diet; in fact, the boy can probably eat us out of house and home!”
She said the whole family will be participating at this year’s walk, including Gabriel’s mother, stepfather, brother, dad, stepmother and grandparents.
Gabriel has one younger brother, Noah Steven, who is 11 and attends South Middle School, and a stepbrother, Ian Weidner.
His grandparents are Fred and Kim Ponchot, Tony and Linda Baker, Jim and Teresa Plessinger and Jeff and Cindy Stevens, all of Greenville
How has it been raising Gabriel?
“Gabe’s dad and I divorced back in 2009, but, the two of us get along well and work together in co-parenting our children,” Michelle said. “We do a split 50/50 custody arrangement. One week he lives with me and his stepdad, the next week he goes and lives with his dad and stepmom. But, we live just a few blocks from each other so we see them all the time and all of us are very involved with Gabriel and his activities and schooling. Gabriel is a great kid. He is very active and outgoing. Right now, sometimes is a little demanding. Raising a 13-year-old boy has its challenges for sure. But, he is a very smart, loving boy.”
Gabriel, she said, does not really have any set backs from being a preemie.
“Currently, we do go to our family doctor for three-month follow-ups as he has been diagnosed with ADHD,” she said. “So, we keep an eye on him and his medication to make sure everything is going well. They also were monitoring his weight for a while. He has always been on the small side. Just until last year, he weighed 70-75 pounds.”
The walk is set for April 30 at the Darke County Fairgrounds. Donations are to be turned in at 8 a.m. and the walk will start at 9 a.m.
March of Dimes’ tagline this year is to give every baby a fighting chance.
This writer may be reached at 937-569-4315. Follow her on Facebook and join the conversation and get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.