WHITTNEY HUNTER AND HER SON, TRINTON, SHARE A SPECIAL BOND WITH EACH OTHER
by ELLEN ORR
Trinton, age 9, has cerebral palsy. His mother, Whittney Hunter, loves him. Neither of these facts is extraordinary; about half a million people in the U.S. have CP, and most of them have loving moms. So what is extraordinary, exactly, about this story? It’s Trinton and Whittney’s stunning bond, which becomes evident the moment you meet them.
When Whittney became pregnant with her first (and to-be-only) child, she was 21. She left college and anticipated the birth of her baby, who was very active in- utero. Two weeks before her delivery date, she noticed that her child had stopped moving, but after a stress test and ultrasound, she was assured that all was fine, and that she was on schedule to be induced. Trinton had other plans, however, and on October 23, 2009, she went into labor spontaneously. Five hours later, a delivery nurse grabbed her hand. “The nurse told me, ‘His oxygen is dropping, so we’re going to put you both on oxygen now, but he’s fine. Everything is fine,’” Whittney remembers. “She said, ‘He’s going to be really purple when you see him.’ But when they finally let me see him, my first and only thought was, ‘He’s perfect.’”
There was no indication that the drop in oxygen would have any long-term effects. Baby and Mama went home, but something was off. “My motherly instincts kicked in,” Whittney says. “I knew something wasn’t ‘right,’ so we went to see our pediatrician.” The doctor found nothing abnormal; Trinton was at the time still a newborn, so there were no normative milestones for him to hit or miss. They were sent home.
But as Trinton got older, Whittney recognized tangible signs of difference: he wasn’t rolling over when other kids did; he wasn’t making eye contact; he wasn’t sitting up “on time” or trying to crawl. Whittney looked into therapies and sought a diagnosis. At 16 months, cerebral palsy was confirmed; brain damage had occurred during labor due to the oxygen deprivation.
The doctor told Whittney, “Set your expectations low. He will always be dependent on you. He won’t do many things. He won’t ever walk or talk.” But Whittney set this aside. “I knew that Trinton was a fighter,” she said. “I knew that he was going to do what he was going to do—just on his time.”
Adamant about getting him the care he needed, Whittney and her family—mom, dad, twin sister, and younger brother—committed to doing everything in their power to support Trinton. For the first few years, they were traveling weekly out of town to see specialists: twice a month to Little Rock for the GI specialist and nutritionist, and twice a month to Dallas for the neurologist. From early on, he received speech therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy every week. “We stayed very busy,” Whittney laughed.
At age 3, Trinton learned to use a wheelchair and entered school at Dunbar Elementary, both at the encouragement of his neurologist. He thrived, newly independent and social. At 6, after a year of nutritionist and doctor-monitored “bulking up” (muscle-building), he transitioned from using the wheelchair full-time to using a walker. He has been walking with minimal assistance ever since—contrary to his early medical prognoses. “[The doctors] told me to set my expectations super low, but of course, me being a mom, I never set them low because I was like, ‘I know my kid, and I know what he can do,’” Whittney laughs.
Now at 9, Trinton is looking into crutches. He attends Pleasant Grove Elementary and uses augmentative technology (a special iPad, response buttons) and a vocabulary “flip book” to communicate with his peers and teachers. Soon, a new tablet will be calibrated to track his eye movements so that he can control a speaking device with his gaze alone. He loves watching football and basketball, as well as collecting socks (Under Armour and Nike brands in “only wild prints”; he has approximately 50 pairs and refuses to repeat until he must). In addition to weekly speech therapy, PT, and OT, he also loves horseback riding.
Parenting is hard enough without four therapies, multiple medical professionals, and assistive devices galore added to the mix. Whittney, a single mother, works full-time as a sales manager for Hersha Hospitality Management and will soon reenroll in school to finish her bachelor’s degree in marketing. So, how does she do it?
“I have an amazing support system,” Whittney says. Her younger brother, Richard, a sophomore at TAMU-T, crafted his schedule to accommodate Trinton’s needs. He picks him up from school three days a week and delivers him to therapy. Every evening, he feeds and bathes his nephew. On his “off” days, Trinton spends the afternoons with his grandparents, with both of whom he shares special relationships. If they are unavailable, twin sister, Brittney, enters. “She is like a second me,” Whittney says, referring not only to their twin status but also to Brittney’s comprehensive knowledge of Trinton and his needs. “It is a well-oiled machine, and I could not do it without every one of them,” Whittney gushes. “It takes all of us to make this show run.”
When she gets home from work at 5:30, she and Trinton have their mom/son time until bed at 8. “Then we go to sleep, wake up, and do it all over again,” she laughs.
Whittney recently took up running, but, not wanting to “waste” any opportunity for quality bonding time, she is working on acquiring a new wheelchair for Trinton made for longer distances so that he can go on runs with her. “We’re super excited,” she says. “He loves the outdoors. Any time we can spend together is great.”
Extended family members, too, are head-over-heels for Trinton, who is described as “the happiest, most mild-mannered kid you’ll ever meet.” Every year, relatives from all over Texas and Arkansas take off work to attend the Special Olympics. “It’s their Super Bowl,” Whittney admits. “Trinton is the light of all of our lives.
“I couldn’t ask for a better kid,” she continued. “I really couldn’t. He is definitely my miracle child. He came at the perfect time, when I needed him. He slowed everything down. “People say, ‘How do you do it?’ And I say, ‘I hit the lottery!’ I feel like I have been given the most amazing kid ever. This doesn’t happen often. How awesome.”