ST. MARYS — A family with ties to St. Marys needs community support to win a handicap van that would make life safer for their son, who has already overcome numerous challenges after a life-threatening encounter with bacterial meningitis.
When Chad and Melissa Weaver’s 2-month-old son Owen had a fever, they thought it was the fever sometimes associated with vaccination.
Instead, doctors discovered he had a life-threatening bacterial meningitis infection. He was hospitalized for 15 days, the first week of which doctors were unsure whether or not he would live.
“It broke my heart to have him that sick,” Melissa said.
An MRI showed that even if Owen did survive, he had suffered brain damage.
“We knew we wouldn’t be bringing home the same kid,” Chad said.
When the family brought Owen home, they were left with a lot of questions about the extent of the damage. Doctors told them that the brain sometimes is able to compensate for damage by becoming stronger in other areas. Doctors couldn’t tell if disabilities would progress.
Bringing him home, however, was just the beginning of his battle.
After a few months, the family discovered their baby’s eyes weren’t focusing on objects, and didn’t seem to respond visually. The family took him to a specialist, and discovered he was blind. At age two he started having seizures, sometimes having as many as 300 seizures per day.
“He slept and had seizures, that was it,” Melissa said.
Just before his fourth birthday, doctors had to give Owen a large dose of steroids that essentially restarted the brain and stopped the seizures.
Any developmental progress Owen had made, however, had to restart. He had essentially lost a year and a half of his life to the problem.
Since then, Owen’s family has tried to give him as normal a life as possible.
He takes 11 medications per day, has therapy twice a week, and appointments with five to six specialists throughout year.
Owen goes to a school for developmentally disabled children. Once he gets home from school he receives more medication, and chest therapies for respiratory problems. This year he had six bouts of pneumonia.
While he doesn’t walk, crawl or stand, Chad said his son is an extremely happy and playful child.
“Everybody that ever meets that child will love him,” Melissa said.
While he does not yet talk, Melissa said he babbles.
“He melts everybody’s heart,” she said.
The family doesn’t know the extent of Owen’s abilities, yet. They don’t know if he will ever crawl or walk or talk on his own, so each accomplishment is a surprise. The most recent was pushing himself up from the floor.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Melissa said.
His father agreed.
“We want to see him develop communication, develop mobility,” Chad said. “We don’t know at what point that will happen or if it will ever happen. They’re in the distant future.”
Melissa said they held out cautious hope.
“We’ve never had anyone say he can’t do those things,” Melissa said. “He’s just got so much brain damage. But no one can say what he can’t do, what he’ll be able to learn. They can’t say that. We just have to be an advocate for him.”
What Owen can do is go as many places as possible with his family. He goes to sporting events, movies, and on family outings. But providing those opportunities is sometimes a challenge for the family.
Chad Weaver is a firefighter working 24-hour shifts leaving Melissa often alone with their four children. Besides Owen, their children are 7, 3 and 8-months-old.
Before they had Owen, Melissa said she never knew the challenges facing people who depend on wheelchairs.
“If you’ve never known anyone with a wheelchair, you don’t realize how un-handicap friendly things are,” Melissa said.
When she goes anywhere with her four children, everything takes extreme planning.
“We try to think about everything ahead of time,” she said. “At movies, we have to get there early because we need to get the handicap space. Sometimes I hesitate to even want to go places because it’s a lot of work. I’m not very tall, and I feel like I put him at risk when I put him in the van.” Because of the hormone injections he takes, Owen is more than 50 pounds and 4 feet tall. Melissa worries about dropping him.
Not only that, but when they go places she has to load and unload his 72 pound wheelchair.
What would be safer, she said, would be a handicap van. A specially-equipped handicap van would keep her from having to lift her son by allowing his whole wheelchair to roll in smoothly.
The family is working now to get the word out about a handicapped van that they could win through National Mobility Awareness Month that would help them move quickly and safely when they travel.
The Weavers are from St. Marys, though they now live in Bluffton. Both Memorial alumni, with family in the area, they’ve already garnered a lot of community support. Chad lived in St. Marys until he was 21, and served as a firefighter, and his father is the fire chief, so many firefighters have been getting the word out about the van.
Melissa’s dad, Larry Badgett, works at Minster Bank, and has tried to promote the contest as well. Anyone who wants to help the Weavers can vote by going to MobilityAwarenessMonth.com/entrant/owen-weaver-bluffton-oh/. They can vote once a day through the website until May 10.