(Note from editor: David Paul was born four months premature in October 1995. Within just days of being considered even a viable infant outside the womb, he and his doctors fought for his tiny fragile life. He came home in February 1996, just about the time of his original birth date. With his family, therapists, friends and others, David began a long slow journey to overcome numerous physical and intellectual challenges his prematurity created for his body. But through it all, his dad Tim says David has always maintained a ”Never Give Up” attitude that David repeats and lives by today.
Here is an edited version, along with some additional comments, of a talk Tim gave to Special Olympics Indiana in June 2017, when David was selected to represent Team Indiana in the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games in July 2018 in Seattle.)
By Tim Paul
David was born four months premature, weighing less than 2 pounds. He was 11 inches long. In his fetal position, he would fit inside a 2-liter bottle. If you were to pick up a 20 once loaf a bread, that would have been his body weight. David’s footprint would of fit inside of a quarter.
David was put on a ventilator to keep him alive. He was given less than a 10 percent chance to survive.
He was given an experimental drug called Surfactain to help develop his lungs so he could breathe on his own. We were down to the last couple of days before having to make that dreaded decision weather or not to let him go. Thank God, he started breathing on his own four weeks after his birth.
Being born four months premature also meant other complications. His eyes were not developed yet, and there was a risk of him being blind (David had corrective eye surgery at the age of 2, has low vision and is classified legally blind but today can see well enough to read and get around). He also had a hole in his heart that thankfully closed up on its own. He was born with a double hernia which was corrected before he left the hospital. He had stage 4 bleeding on the brain on both sides of his brain. In addition, David’s left femur bone was twisted outward but was too small to correct at that time. He still has this yet today.
We were only able to hold our son for minutes at a time in the early stages. Only while they changed his isolate out on the weekend. David came home around his original due date. He came home on oxygen, weighing just over 4 pounds.
David was diagnosed a year later with cerebral palsy. Doctors and specialists told us at that time that David would probably never walk on his own or to be able to talk due to his cerebral palsy.
Never giving up, we surrounded ourselves with some amazing doctors and therapists. David continued to surprise us as he continued to make great strides, overcoming many obstacles that were in his way. David took his first steps at the age of 4.
He used a walker on his first day of school. Didn’t like it very well. His upper body was always ahead of his lower body.
By the time he hit middle school, David could walk little distances by holding someone’s hand. David started doing horseback riding therapy at a local riding facility. This is how we were introduced to Special Olympics.
David has been involved in Special Olympics for over 10 years now. David participates year round in the sports of Equestrian, Bowling, Snowshoeing and Powerlifting. This year was our 10th anniversary on going to the State Summer Games. I remember pushing David around in a wheelchair and helping him at the Bowling Alley the first couple of years at the state games.
After David turned 16 years old, I asked his doctor if I could get him in a lifting and stretching routine instead of using Botox and Nerve blocks. After just the first six month, his doctor was amazed at David’s progress and said there was nothing more the injections could do to help him. After a year, he asked me to write down what we were doing so he could share it with other patients in similar circumstances as David. This was the best thing that we could have ever done for David. David was getting stronger and more comfortable within himself. David began working out three nights a week for about two hours. We then set goals for David:
- He was going to graduate in two years and one of our goals was to have him walk across the stage on his own to get his diploma;
- The other was to walk up the double set of steps to the second floor of the school without holding onto any railing.
He nailed them both.
By this time, David was enjoying lifting so much I suggested to our area Special Olympic coordinator if it would be possible to start a powerlifting team. I told him I would coach it. So we did.
David has now been powerlifting for five years. During this time, we have gone back to his doctor on a yearly basis. Each year he tells David to continue what he is doing on his own. Botox or Nerve Blocks are not the answer to staying on your feet, but your exercise is.
The past three years, David participated in the Polar Bear Climb at the Versailles Polar Bear Plunge. His first year, he made it half way without stopping. This is a 3-mile walk with hills. The second and third year he walked all 3 miles without stopping. Last year he even ran the last 100 yards to the finish line. Not bad for someone who was not expected to walk at all.
David also used his strength to help raise money for a classmate at Milan High School who was battling cancer. The football team has a Lift-A-Thon each year to help support the football program. You can donate 5-, 10-, 15-cents a pound lifted in the three types of lifts. David wanted to use his ability, not disability, to pay it forward. Everyone was so amazed what he could lift. That day he hit 595 pounds in the three lifts. That was last year. This year, David successfully benched 220 pounds, back squat 175 pounds and deadlifted 230 pounds.
By the way, the last four years coming to the Special Olympics summer games, David walked all over campus to and from his events — just like everyone else.
David is an inspiration to me. He has that ”never give up attitude” and sets no limits on himself. I am so blessed to have him in my life.
Thank you, Special Olympics, who knows where we would be with David without you. Being David’s dad and coach, I couldn’t be more proud of this young man. When we started this adventure six years ago, our goal was to inspire others who have cerebral palsy, that you can overcome this disability and show your ability for a better life. David is knocking down that disability door and opening new doors for a better life. Never Give Up!!