Looking at 3-year-old Caleb Gay, it would be hard to tell that he is anything other than a normal, happy child. He loves music, pirates and all things Disney, and after overcoming a bit of shyness, he’s quick to greet newcomers with an action-figure peace offering. It’s hard to imagine that, not long ago, Caleb was undergoing surgery because of a mild form of cerebral palsy.
At 8 months old, Caleb started having what are known as subclinical seizures, which don’t have many visible symptoms. To the untrained eye, they can go unnoticed easily, but having experienced the same types of seizures as a child, Caleb’s father, Roger, knew the signs all too well.
Roger Gay and his wife, Christine, took Caleb to the hospital, where doctors did blood work and recommended that Caleb see a pediatrician. The seizures continued throughout the course of the next few days, and when he experienced four in one day, the family decided to take Caleb to All Children’s Hospital, in St. Petersburg.
CT scans and MRIs revealed that Caleb had a bleed on his brain, and he was taken straight into the intensive-care unit.
“It was like every parent’s worst nightmare,” says Roger Gay of the discovery.
Born six weeks premature with his twin brother, Christian, surgeons feared that performing surgery to repair the bleed would be too risky for Caleb’s 8-month-old body. Instead, he was treated with medication and routine MRIs, and the bleed shrank significantly until about a year later, when doctors noticed it was growing. Once again, the family was faced with the decision of surgery.
“I asked the doctor, father-to-father, what he would do in the situation,” remembers Roger Gay. “He said we should go ahead with the surgery.”
Road to recovery
Now 3 years old, Caleb’s condition has improved significantly since the surgery. He takes medication to help control his seizures, although his parents say they still happen “without rhyme or reason,” and he undergoes daily bouts of physical therapy to help regain muscle function.
The bleed on Caleb’s brain was caused by what are known as cavernous malformations on the brain, which are associated with milder cases of cerebral palsy. Roger Gay was born with these same malformations, but he didn’t experience a bleed until much later in childhood, which made his recovery much slower. He says he still has some issues with balance.
Because of the location of Caleb’s bleed, he lost much of the function in his left arm and hand, as well as some of his language skills, but his parents say that his physical therapy is helping significantly.
“The results have been tremendous,” says Roger Gay. “We’re fortunate that it happened so early, because it’s much easier for a brain to rewire at such a young age. And technology has come a long way. When I had my surgery, it was almost experimental.”
A dream come true
Caleb’s mother, Christine, has been a volunteer with the Make-A-Wish Foundation for nearly eight years, but she says she never imagined she’d be on the receiving end of its services.
After becoming familiar with the program through Roger Gay’s employer, Christine began volunteering as a wish granter, visiting the homes of children who were selected to have their wish granted. Because she was already familiar with the requirements, she submitted Caleb’s application, which was approved. The only thing left to do was choose his wish.
“It’s very important to Make-A-Wish that the wish is the child’s, and not the parents’,” says Christine Gay.
For the Gays, the choice was an obvious one: a Disney cruise.
“We’re all Disney fanatics,” says Roger Gay. “Caleb loves the characters. He loves singing along to the videos. He’ll turn anything into a microphone.”
Late last month, Caleb was granted his wish. For five days, the family enjoyed an all-expenses paid Disney cruise, on which Caleb and Christian were able to meet their favorite Disney characters, dress as pirates and enjoy a week of relaxation.
“He was a little overwhelmed the first day,” says Christine Gay. “But, he loved it. He’s still talking about it.”
As the family settles back into its normal routine, they are grateful for the opportunity to grant Caleb’s wish, and they are optimistic about his continuing recovery.
“We’re hoping he gains all his strength back,” says Roger Gay. “We’re taking it a day at a time. If he recovers anything like I did, he’ll be just fine.”