An Online Wellness Magazine produced by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth)

A Miraculous Journey

David’s growth from frailest baby to fledgling baseball player

At 10 months old and weighing just 10 pounds, David was so weak and behind in development that he couldn’t even sit up. But now the bubbly 4-year-old is growing fast and thriving. In fact, the big Houston Astros fan is already swinging baseball bats, and he even has a mean left-handed pitch.

David’s remarkable progress is the result of his adoptive parents’ loving care and tireless hard work, as Ruben and Alayna Vazquez have nurtured the little boy back to good health and put a beaming smile on his face.

The UT Physicians Child Abuse Resource & Education (CARE) Clinic, led by a team with McGovern Medical School at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth), has supported the Vazquez family every step of the way, providing comprehensive medical support, practical assistance and a shoulder to cry on through anxious health crises.

During National Child Abuse Prevention Month in April, David’s parents are sharing their story and paying tribute to the tremendous dedication of Rebecca Girardet, M.D., who leads the CARE clinic, and her dedicated team.

“They are literally lifesavers. Without all the amazing support, we would have been totally lost, and there’s simply no way David would be where he is today. He’s come so far,” Ruben says, taking a rare moment to reflect on how their physically and emotionally exhausting quest began.

Ruben says his wife almost died while giving birth to their daughter, and the memory still sends him into emotional turmoil today. This experience prompted their decision to take a different route to expand their family.

“We talked about it long and hard and, in the end, chose to adopt. Fostering was considered, but I knew my wife would get too attached,” Ruben says.

Meeting David

Fate and their selfless kindness led the Vazquez family to David.

“There was a young boy with heart issues who needed a foster home. That broke our hearts, so we decided to go on the much shorter list of people willing to accept emergency placements,” Ruben says.

“My wife was in a job interview when we got the call. They wanted us to get a crib and a car seat, and then come quickly to pick up this little infant. He was malnourished, undersized, underdeveloped and failing to thrive. We didn’t hesitate, and the next day David was with us,” Ruben recalls.

The moment they first met in the hospital took their breath away. Doctors told the Vazquez family David hadn’t been fed as he should have been, but nothing could prepare them for what they saw. “He was 10 months old and 0-3 month clothes were still really baggy on him. If you tried to sit him up, he would topple over,” Ruben says. “But he grabbed my hand and said: ‘Dada’ — the only word he could say. We both melted and just wanted to love him and make him better.”

His new big sister, Ro, age 9, was equally shocked by his tiny frame, and she berated her parents for not telling her they were getting a newborn instead of an older baby. Along with his underdeveloped size, it soon became clear that David had other medical challenges. Besides picking up every virus going around because his immune system was so weak, he was also unable to breathe properly and diagnosed with life-threatening sleep apnea.

“We were in and out of the clinic all the time. He was aspirating because his muscles were so underdeveloped, and his lungs were filling with fluid. We recorded the noise he made in his sleep, which sounded like a dying bear,” Ruben says. “When we played it to the doctors, they couldn’t believe it and found his adenoids (glands located in the roof of the mouth) were the largest they’ve seen, even with adults. He could only breathe 30 percent out of his right nostril, so his adenoids had to be removed right away. That was super scary.” 

A long road

David’s road to recovery was going to be long and labor-intensive. Even getting him to eat proved a painstaking trial, starting with fluids given in a specific way before progressing to baby food after overcoming yet another heart-breaking hurdle.

“He was so scared of the spoon, he flinched at the sight of it, cried and put his hands up as if someone was going to hit him. I ended up having to use my finger, and it took hours to re-educate him that the spoon was his friend, not his enemy,” Ruben explains.

Packed with different appointments, David’s schedule included physical therapy three times a week as well as occupational and speech therapy twice a week. By identifying and tackling problems early on, the CARE Clinic not only improves patient outcomes, but also helps reduce demand on other services, especially costly emergency care.

After a two-year journey to adoption, David was finally declared Ruben and Alayna’s lawful son on Nov. 24, 2015.

Over time, his recovery has skyrocketed.

“There was no stopping him — it was like a switch had been flipped. He went from being below the baseline with everything to a ridiculous rate of growth,” Ruben says. “He’s grown six inches in the past six months — we can’t buy longer pants fast enough. All the colds are long gone, too, so he’s doing great.”

The biggest fan

A strong personality has also started to emerge. Although his attention span is short, he is always mesmerized when the Houston Astros are playing on TV.

“He’s totally captivated, and won’t take his eyes off the screen. He would happily watch it all day and always shouts: ‘Altuve hit the ball!’ whenever (Astros second baseman) Jose Altuve is on,” Ruben enthuses. “We go to the park and practice pitching together. He’s a natural athlete, running, throwing and jumping all the time. He’ll make a great leftie.”

Although David has a sweet disposition, he has started showing occasional signs of hyperactivity, so he now also sees UTHealth psychiatrist Christopher Frederick, D.O., at the CARE Clinic, which includes a multispecialty staff — one of the components that sets it apart.

Family life at their home in Humble, Texas, is at last starting to resemble something closer to normal, with trips to the zoo, child-friendly restaurants and church events all being regular fixtures.

“He’s very sociable and is the best of friends with the pastor’s son. He says, ‘I love you,’ 50 times a day, so it’s pretty hard not to be smitten with him, too, like we were from day one. It has been incredibly difficult at times, but we’ve come through the worst of it and can start to look ahead. We can’t lose with David on our side,” Ruben says.

Girardet, who is a professor and director of the Division of Child Protection Pediatrics at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, and clinic nurse practitioner Mary Senkel of McGovern Medical School, who were involved with David’s treatment, are similarly thrilled with his recovery.

“He has gone from being a very sick and vulnerable baby who wasn’t reaching any of his milestones to a healthy little boy, bursting with energy and life,” Senkel says.

“It shows that with the right level of specialist care and support, great results are possible. We worked closely with his parents to help him catch up and develop in every aspect — physically, mentally and psychologically,” says Girardet, who is affiliated with Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “Seeing him now as the picture of health, enjoying himself and so full of potential is extremely satisfying. It shows how the work of the clinic can be truly transformational.”

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