Faith, Family & Football

A mild form of cerebral palsy hasn’t slowed down 12-year-old Hunter Hill and his mom, Mandy

By KD Reep

 

Mandy Hill and son Hunter. | Photo by Sara Blancett Reeves

Mandy Hill and son Hunter. | Photo by Sara Blancett Reeves

Mandy and Brant Hill wanted a baby more than anything. But when the Prattsville couple began making plans for a family, Mandy learned she had a tumor obstructing one of her ovaries and Fallopian tubes. “It was such a shock,” she says. “The tumor was the size of a basketball, and the doctors told me it would be almost impossible for me to get pregnant.”

Five years later, the Hills learned they were expecting their first baby, a boy. But their joy was eclipsed by complications when Mandy was in her fifth month. “My doctor told me to go home and rest, but that night, I hurt so badly that I couldn’t relax, and I saw I was bleeding”, she says. My husband called the doctor, and he sent me to UAMS in Little Rock. I was in labor.”

The Hills were told their baby didn’t have a solid chance of surviving, and the medical team also was worried about Mandy’s health. Diagnosed with a placental abruption, Mandy was heartbroken, thinking she had done something to cause this complication. According to the Mayo Clinic, a placental abruption is when the placenta peels away from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery, which can deprive the baby of oxygen and nutrients and cause the mother heavy bleeding.

“I couldn’t be consoled,” Mandy says. “It was my mother who gave me what I needed to go on. She said, ‘God didn’t give you this child to take it away from you now,’ and I held onto that.”

Hunter was born at a pound and two ounces, his kidneys weren’t functioning, his lungs had not fully developed and, because he was born at 23 weeks, he couldn’t open his eyes. Even with all of this to overcome, he made it past the first 24 hours, which his doctors said were the most critical.

“He spent 94 days in the NICU,” Mandy says. “He only weighed a little over four pounds when we got to bring him home, and he was on oxygen and an apnea monitor. He had retinopathy in his left eye, and even after several surgeries at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, he has no vision in that eye. When he had an MRI on his brain the doctors discovered he had a small brain bleed, which caused periventricular leukomalacia, a mild form of cerebral palsy.”

Not knowing what to expect, they began researching Hunter’s type of cerebral palsy and how it affects other children. “Hunter has poor balance and coordination control, and he has some problems with his fine motor skills,” Mandy says. “While he can do so much more than he was ever expected to be able to do, he still struggles with certain things. The doctors’ expectations were never good; they told us he would be mentally retarded and not able to attend school. But, after many prayers and discussions with family, we decided to send him to public school where he can be around other children. We felt like him seeing other kids do things he wanted to do would only push him to try harder.”

Today, Hunter is in a regular classroom and, with some modifications, does the same work they do. In fact, he has made the honor roll, and his interest in sports has blossomed. In first grade, he asked to play peewee basketball, which he participated in until the third grade, then set his sights on football.

“Football is his all-time favorite sport,” Mandy says. “The coach at Hunter’s middle school, Terry Collins, offered him the position of ‘assistant coach’ for the school’s football team, and he’s been by his side for three years now.”

This past fall, Coach Collins approached Mandy about a game he wanted Hunter to play instead of coach. On October 20, the Poyen Indians hosted the Glen Rose Bears at the last home game of the season. Coach Collins needed Hunter to dress out and help his team garner a win.

“Once I let it sink in what he had just asked me, I broke down and cried,” Mandy says. “It was such a special moment. Coach Collins spoke with the football coach at Glen Rose, and they worked with the kids to make sure Hunter didn’t get tackled. I think the kids at both schools were just as excited as Hunter when he made a touchdown. He’s already been through so much more than most of us as adults will ever go through in our lifetime, but he has always been such a fighter, and he never gives up no matter what kind of odds are against him.”

Mandy credits her faith for helping Hunter, her family and herself cope with his special needs. “I still struggle,” she says. “I wonder if I am making the right decisions about what is best for Hunter, but I always look to God for the answers. Now, I not only have Hunter, but I also have another fireball little boy who is 2-years-old. I want people to know that they are not alone when dealing with an unexpected diagnosis. You don’t have to accept what the doctors tell you and let that be how it is. Do your research and talk to any and every one you need to talk to and make sure you are doing everything possible to help your child.

“And if your child has a dream, do what you can to help him or her make that dream come true,” Mandy says. “I didn’t always want to drive my child to all of those ball practices and games knowing I’d just sit and watch him stand there and not be able to do what he truly would like to be doing. I’ve sent him to ball camps during the summer knowing he wouldn’t be able to do what his friends were doing. But, I did those things because it helped him become the best possible person he can be.”