Doctors didn’t think she’d survive a stroke in utero. Now she’s thriving—here’s why

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They didn’t think she’d survive after a stroke in utero. Now she’s thriving thanks to Hand In Hand
Teacher Katie Newton, Boston + Mom Payton Smith on the playground at Hand In Hand. Photo via Sharron Swain for Bham Now

Meet Boston, aka “Queen B.” This gorgeous four-year old’s smile is so bright, it lights up the room. When she was diagnosed with a stroke in utero, doctors didn’t think she’d survive. Four years later, she’s showing the world what she’s made of, with a little help from her friends at Hand In Hand. Here is her story. 

Doctors didn’t think she’d survive

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Boston back when she was little. Photo via United Ability

Diagnosed with a stroke in utero at 28 weeks, Boston Smith’s chances of surviving her birth, according to a team of specialists, were slim to none. Only one doctor along the way said “maybe she’ll come out and surprise us all.” Boston’s mom, Payton Smith, assumed he was delusional, after all the dire predictions she’d heard. 

Turns out, he was right. 

“She came out like, ‘hey world, this is me!’”

Payton Smith, Boston’s mom

While doctors thought Boston would require many interventions to survive her first moments, including a shunt to remove fluid from the brain, a lengthy stay in the NICU and more—she didn’t. 

“She just did really well with everything,” recounted Boston’s mom Payton.

Early early intervention

Because much of the left side of Boston’s brain is missing, she started early intervention with Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind. They knew she didn’t have hearing issues, but weren’t sure how much she could or couldn’t see. 

Through AIDB, Boston and Payton met a couple of therapists who worked at United Ability. At the time, Boston was at a daycare in Pelham, near where Payton works as a special ed teacher. While the people at the daycare were wonderful, Boston was diagnosed with failure to thrive since she was unable to eat or gain weight.

Therapist Melissa White, who worked at Hand In Hand during this time, said “You’ve got to get her to Hand In Hand—she’s perfect for this program. They can feed her and she can get all her therapies while she’s there.”

Getting started at Hand In Hand

Hand In Hand
Boston Smith feeding in a class at Hand In Hand. Photo via United Ability

In fall 2018, Boston shifted to Hand In Hand from her previous daycare. Although Payton teaches special ed, when it came to caring for her daughter, she found herself in a challenging new world filled with therapies and interventions.

At United Ability, Boston was able to eat, and within six months, she was completely off failure to thrive. Payton is still incredulous when she recalls how much progress Boston made so quickly, zooming to the middle weight range of the growth chart from the very bottom. 

Help make a difference in a child’s life. Contribute to United Ability’s Champions Campaign today + support the tremendous work Hand In Hand does in our community. 

Friends at Hand In Hand make a world of difference

Boston and her friend at the pumpkin patch
Boston with a friend at the pumpkin patch. Photo via United Ability

In addition to growing physically, making friends has been huge for Boston. She’s been with the same peer group from the beginning, and one little girl’s job each morning is to help find a toy for Boston to play with. 

In the inclusive classroom—which mixes typically developing children and children who face some kind of developmental challenge—jobs like this help both children: one has a sense of purpose to reduce her anxiety about Mom leaving for a few hours, and the other one has a friend to help them feel like they’re part of the action. Over time, this little girl has become an even more important part of Boston’s journey to becoming better and stronger. 

United Ability’s Champions Campaign helps children like Boston thrive

Hand In Hand, teacher and student
Boston with a teacher at Hand In Hand. Photo via United Ability

Katie Newton was one of Boston’s teachers from when she started at United Ability in March until July 2021. When I asked her what it was like working there, here’s what she said: 

“It’s really cool to watch all of the kids interact and learn how to work among children that have different challenges. Everyone catches on and works together. 

It’s really sweet to watch helpers emerge and to watch some of the atypically developing children like Boston reach and even surpass those developmental milestones. 

My favorite thing is when a doctor has told a child that they’ll never have words or they’ll never be able to walk and you get to witness their first words or their first steps.” 

Through the generosity of multiple donors, your contribution to United Ability’s Champions Campaign will be matched up to $25K through December 31, 2021. 

Support United Ability’s Champions Campaign today.

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Sharron Swain
Writer, Interviewer + Adventurer | Telling stories to make a difference
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