Sometimes the missing ingredient in a child’s health and well-being is simply love and patience.
—Dr. Matthew Heeren
The odds were stacked heavily against a frail Victor Wanberg. He was born at a healthy 7.6 pounds, but two months later he was below his birth weight, with skin hanging on his fragile frame. When a doctor
at UC Davis Medical Center examined him, she didn’t think he’d make it another hour, much less through the night.
His issues were many, and complex:
- The cartilage in his nose never separated during his development, so for the first two months of his life, he couldn’t nurse, because he couldn’t breathe and eat at the same time.
- He had a hole in his heart.
- Like his birth mother and sister, he suffers from neurofibromatosis, or NF, a genetic disorder in which tumors grow on nerve endings.
- Because he wasn’t receiving proper nutrition, the soft spot on his head hadn’t closed, and his cerebellum extended beyond his cranium, creating even more vulnerability.
At 2 months old, he was diagnosed as a “failure to thrive” baby and was taken away from his family.
In the spring of 2009, after one month in the hospital, he was placed in foster care with Dottie Fair, who is legendary in Solano County when it comes to foster parenting. Dottie, who runs the Solano Community College Kinship Education Program, had already adopted five special needs children. She took Victor in and figured out ways, post surgery, to coax him to eat and keep food down.
And, just as important, she took him to PRIDE classes (for people interested in becoming foster and adoptive parents) she was teaching, where he met his adoptive mother, Tyffany Wanberg.
“At first, I was afraid of even touching Victor,” recalls Tyffany. “He was so small. His breathing sounded horrible. He had an apnea monitor on him, and he was difficult to feed.”
Dottie knew she couldn’t adopt another child. And the social workers wouldn’t let this child return to his birth family, because they would not be capable of caring for his many needs. So Dottie asked Tyffany to consider adopting him.
Tyffany was immediately interested, but knew the tougher sell would be her husband, Peter. She’d suggested adoption before, and the answer was always no.
But to her surprise, he said yes. “Well, let’s at least have you meet him first,” she remembers telling him.
At that first meeting, Victor couldn’t move by himself. He was up to 8 pounds, but eating was still difficult and keeping food down even more so. “He was so weak,” recalled Peter, “that if you lifted his arm, he couldn’t hold it up himself.” The first goal was merely to get him to hold his head up.
The couple knew there were many challenges ahead, but they decided to commit, visiting Victor three times a week, and later taking him on weekends. They even met his birth family, and promised to keep the lines of communication open, gaining their trust.
Nearly one year later, the adoption was official. Now at 3, you’d have a hard time connecting the lifeless baby to a very social Victor.
The baby who had to use a walker to take his first steps now strolls across the living room with purpose and zeal. He encounters new visitors with wide-eyed wonder, and immediately holds out his hand, ready to offer a tour of his toys. He giggles when dad reads him a book, or mom sneaks in a tickle.
He’s slowly developing verbal skills, although he can easily tell you what his favorite cartoon characters say.
His progress has been astounding. “Much later,” confides Tyffany, “his team of medical professionals told me they didn’t think he’d live through that first winter, but he proved them all wrong. I looked through his eyes and saw a brain that was working and a little person trying to get out, but was being restrained by his body.”
Although he will continue to face many health challenges, today he is thriving, confirms Dr. Matthew Heeren, a pediatrician at NortBay’s Center for Primary Care in Vacaville. “Victor has been a boy who has had multiple difficult challenges since birth. What was once an obstacle, however, is now a mastered milestone,” he says. “His challenges will continue undoubtedly for his entire life, but I am confident he will continue to thrive.”
Some good news on the health front was offered last fall, during a meeting with Victor’s cardiologist. “He told me in January the hole in his heart had closed,” recalls Tyffany. “I said I thought that was impossible. Didn’t you tell me it would never close?”
His words still ring in her mind: “You never can predict what love can do.”
Dr. Heeren concurs. “Sometimes the missing ingredient in a child’s health and well-being is simply love and patience.
“Victor has been so fortunate to have had people like Dottie and now Tyffany and Peter in his life,” he says. “He has enriched our lives as well by reminding us about these pieces through his everyday smile.”