In January of 2010, Aaron met his forever family for the very first time in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He was five and a half months old, and very weak. Aaron weighed only eight pounds, but his smile lit up the room. But the smile couldn’t hide how sick he was, and after returning to Wilmington the family embarked on a more than two-year journey to nurse him back to health. The first two years with Aaron at home were an intense medical journey. He was diagnosed with trachea, laryngeal and bronchomalacia. His airway was incredibly sensitive, and his breathing was labored and noisy. He had chronic pneumonia and was hospitalized multiple times due to complications with his airway. He had swallow studies, bronchoscopies, endoscopies, EEGs, sleep studies and almost weekly lab draws within those first two years. Shortly after his first birthday, he had his tonsils and adenoids removed and was diagnosed with a chronic rare inflammatory disease of the esophagus. With treatments, hospitalizations and adjustments that included thickened liquids and diet modifications, Aaron started to stabilize.
As the family came up for a breath of air, they shifted their focus to the developmental delays Aaron was experiencing. At 18 months old, he was diagnosed with childhood apraxia of speech. As he continued to grow, behavioral challenges and learning differences became more prevalent. When Aaron was four and a half years old, he was diagnosed with autism. Most recently, Aaron was diagnosed with a movement disorder that affects his sleep, causing twitching and jerking movements during the night. This greatly impacts his ability to get restful sleep, leading to other complex behavioral challenges.
Aaron’s daily life is the same as most middle school boys! He laughs, plays, dances, and gets into mischief (he loves jokes and making people laugh!). Thanks to the help of a team of amazing physicians, incredible therapist and the support of family, friends and his best friend HATTIE he has made huge leaps.
Aaron and his family were connected with paws4people at a local event in the summer of 2013. After hearing the benefits and more about the organization, Aaron’s family submitted their application. Then, over Labor Day weekend 2013, they got the call that Aaron could meet the service dogs in training in December. Aaron and his family traveled to West Virginia to meet the dogs in December 2013, and Aaron and HATTIE bonded after spending a few minutes together.
Since 2014, HATTIE has been assisting Aaron at home, in the community, during therapy sessions and accompanying him to doctors’ appointments. HATTIE helps to mitigate challenging behaviors, apply deep pressure to help with anxiety and helps to brace and anchor when Aaron needs a little extra support.
HATTIE is such an important part of Aaron’s life and the McCumbee Family!