Mom: "My son makes me a better person"
Two-year-old Asher White is like any typical little boy. He loves soccer, watching school buses drive by and playing with anything that "goes."
But the active little boy that he is today is a miracle to his parents, Marissa Kent-White and Zach White, who were told at his birth that he would likely never so much as crawl or walk.
Although he was born full-term at 40 weeks on April 28, 2012, doctors believe Asher experienced a lack of oxygen to the brain before he was born. After a 28-hour labor and seven hours of pushing, he was born unresponsive and whisked away to Mission's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). He was also suffering from constant seizures that subsided after medication.
As a low stimulant baby, it was explained that Asher couldn’t handle being touched like a normal newborn and it was four days before Marissa and Zach were even allowed to hold him. Even then, he could only lie on their chests.
In a serious meeting with doctors, Marissa remembers being asked what her expectations were for her child, and she cried as she told them what every mother wants — to one day be going to his soccer games and going on family hiking and camping trips.
But the prognosis was grim — doctors braced the new parents for life with a child who they said might never walk, talk or even be able to eat on his own. They expected Asher to be mildly to severely mentally disabled.
He remained in the NICU for exactly three weeks before they were allowed to bring him home to Candler. Though being home was nice, it brought new challenges.
"Coming home I was scared," Marissa admitted. "I didn't have all those tubes and wires hooked up to my kid to make sure he was OK."
For the couple, the first year with Asher was one of the most challenging times in their lives. They took each helpless cry and each sleepless night, moment by moment.
They scheduled their lives around therapy and doctor visits. As a therapist herself, Marissa understood how crucial it was to start his therapy early on. He began therapy starting at 8 weeks old.
As the months went by, things seemed promising for Asher. Though a little behind his peers, he began to show his parents that he was going to beat the odds.
Before turning 2, Asher already knew his ABC's, knew all of his colors and could count to 20. He loves nothing more than kicking a ball around the front yard of their Candler home and blowing kisses to everyone.
"He has his great grandfather's side smile that melts my heart every time," Marissa said.
But there have been some setbacks along the way. Asher didn't start crawling until he was 13 months old and didn't walk until about 18 months.
"Walking has been his biggest challenge. He's a pretty wobbly little guy, probably from the brain injury, so I think PT (physical therapy) has been the most important therapy for him," she said.
But with leg braces to help with his balance that can't be seen under his pants, Asher is quick on his feet once he gets moving. Two weeks ago, the family celebrated his second birthday with a soccer themed party and last weekend, the family took their first camping trip together.
"It's been cool to see and do all these things that we were told probably wouldn't happen," Marissa said. "He can dribble a ball better than any 2-year-old I've ever seen. The fact that he lived to us is amazing but all he can do just blows my mind. I feel like he's a really smart little guy."
Seeing her son's determination, his fight to live as a newborn and overcoming obstacles as he grows, is all the more inspiring to Marissa.
"Asher makes us better human beings," Marissa said.
He's taught them patience and how to truly appreciate the small things in life, like simply being able to share in a conversation with their young son.
She's also learned that whatever plans a parent-to-be may have, no matter how "by the book" a pregnancy may go, being a parent almost never turns out as planned. Instead of making plans, she lives every day to be a support for Asher.
As his mother, she's learned that it's part of her job to advocate for his needs and educate others in a way that is sensitive and nonthreatening. She welcomes questions from others about why her son may walk or talk a little differently than other kids his age.
"Before he had [his diagnosis] I didn't know what it was and I don't expect others to know either. I think it'll help him feel comfortable talking about it as a part of who he is and what makes him so miraculous," she said.
For her husband, Zach, Marissa has been a source of inspiration. He credits much of their son's growth and success to her unwavering strength.
"A lot of things are out of our control, but Marissa's done everything she can to help him grow up healthy. He gets constant stimulation and love from her, and she's always mindful of big and little ways she can help him grow into a person we'll be very proud of," Zach said.
She's not only attentive to Asher, but after their experience at the NICU, Marissa takes the time to reach out to other families whose babies are much like Asher when he was born. Sometimes, NICU nurses call Marissa just to come talk to new parents who need to hear from someone who's already been through it.
"We've met a lot of NICU families through our experience, and Marissa has been an amazing support to a lot of them," Zach said. "She'll take a home-cooked meal to a family she hardly knows without batting an eye. It's a sort of calling I think she's discovered. I learn how to be a better person from her."
In 2012, Marissa received the most votes in a Mother's Day photo contest, which garnered an article about Asher's birth. That article can be found here.
Marissa and Zach, both originally from Ohio, were both therapists at Haywood Psychological Services when Asher was born. Though they still have many connections to friends and former co-workers in Haywood, Marissa has since opened her own practice where she works one day a week and Zach is now a clinical social worker and substance abuse counselor at Pardee Hospital.