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Victoria girl beats medical odds (video)

By Elena Watts
Aug. 15, 2013 at 3:15 a.m.
Updated Aug. 17, 2013 at 3:17 a.m.


Shayla Rudd inherited her tough, stubborn spirit from her parents, Kelvin and Willishia Rudd.

Doctors told the Rudds their 1-pound, 7-ounce micro preemie, born at 24-weeks-old, had a 40 percent chance of survival. Chances were she would likely die in her sleep before she turned 5, that is, if she made it out of the hospital.

No one but her parents expected Shayla to live - but she defied odds and turned 10 several weeks ago.

Shayla was born with chronic lung disease, among a multitude of other respiratory diseases, gastroesophageal reflux and detached retinas.

"She was the sickest baby I'd ever seen," said Laura Deming, a neonatal clinic nurse specialist who cared for Shayla at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. "Her mother's name is Will, and those parents willed that child to live."

Deming acted as a surrogate family member when the Rudds could not be there.

She remembers one of her first encounters with Kelvin. He had arrived at the hospital about 6:30 a.m. after he had traveled two hours from Victoria.

The staff asked him to leave because doctors were making their rounds.

"I was furious because he had driven so far and worked around his schedule to see his baby," Deming said. "I thought he should be able to see her as much as he wanted."

The doctors agreed, and the policy changed as a result.

Shayla's medical condition was so severe that she received nutrition through a feeding tube and stayed in Houston hospitals for the first year of her life.

The Rudds slept in so many different hospital rooms, hotels and houses that they could not remember where they were when they woke.

During the year, Kelvin noticed too many single mothers at the hospitals.

Kelvin would not run away, but said it was tough.

"I'm thankful that we are together," he said of his marriage. "When one is weak, the other is strong."

A sick child can destroy a parent's confidence, he said.

"It's difficult for men to accept because we want to fix everything," Kelvin said.

If staying in a hospital for the first year of Shayla's life were not enough, she was diagnosed with traits of mild autism, Asperger's syndrome, mild mental disability and severe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at age 4.

Doctors also predicted she would never walk or talk. They said her vision would lack depth perception if she were able to see at all.

Yet, Shayla navigates stairs and curbs without trouble and hits baseballs with her bat. She began vocalizing eight months ago.

Her first words were about the soap dripping into her eyes during a bath.

"Burns like fire," she said.

Her parents cried.

Shayla's voice is deep and gravelly because of a tracheostomy and subsequent tracheal reconstructive surgeries.

To improve her speech, she started therapy with Meredith Potts, a speech-language pathologist at Branch of Hope Children's Therapy Center in Victoria.

For the past four years, Shayla has made huge strides at Branch of Hope with the help of a Vantage Lite communication device that enables augmentative and alternative communication. Her communication was limited to 50 signs, which caused her much frustration.

Asking for something as simple as a Sprite was a hassle because she could not say, "Hold the ice."

She would dissolve into fits of anger.

Still, Shayla wants to talk like other children, and she excels in voice therapy. The Vantage Lite is almost becoming a back-up communication device, Potts said.

Despite her disabilities, Shayla was sight-reading at 18 months. She has also been computer savvy since age 2.

Her father told her she could have Captain Crunch cereal if she could find it online. She not only found an image of the box, but also images of the local Wal-Mart. At school, she unlocked the password on the Istation and Googled the entertainer Usher.

Shayla is on the A/B honor roll at DeLeon Elementary School. She splits time between regular and special education classes.

At the beginning of each school year, the Rudds use props to present a narrative about Shayla's journey to her classmates. The children pass around a China doll outfitted like Shayla at birth, blood pressure cuff and all, to show her fragility.

They breathe through straws to show how Shayla feels every time she inhales. They also flip through photos of Shayla during her early hospital days in a homemade book full of information about her.

The Rudds integrate Shayla's therapies with their home routines as much as possible. They practice math while measuring ingredients for recipes.

They separate whites from colors before loading the washing machine. Shayla scans items in the self-serve aisles of the grocery stores and orders from the menu at restaurants.

Shayla enjoys many activities. She is co-captain of a special needs gymnastics team. At competitions, high school cheerleaders hoist her in the air where she stands on their hands. She is a Girl Scout and cheerleader. Soccer, baseball and swimming are among the sports she enjoys.

"We don't set limits; we let her do what she can," her mom said.

Doctors have stopped guessing what Shayla's outcome might be, Kelvin said. She is writing her own story as she goes.

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