Gabriela Downing was never supposed to be born.
Early in the pregnancy, doctors warned her parents that because of the severity of her medical conditions, she’d never make it past her second birthday. They strongly advised against having her.
The Downings didn’t listen.
“I laughed and I smiled and I said, ‘You know what, we’re gonna have our daughter,’ ” Jacobie Downing, 29, remembered last week. “They thought we were crazy.”
But in August this year, a smiling, irrepressible Gabriela turned 4.
“You never really know the life of a special needs family” until you’re in one, Jacobie said. “Some people look at it like it’s a horrible thing. But God has really blessed us. I’ve learned so much from Gabriela.”
Gabriela has spina bifida, cerebral palsy, scoliosis and hydrocephalus (fluid in her brain). She needs a wheelchair to get around. She has a shunt in her brain to alleviate the fluid, and her parents have to help her with a catheter five times every day.
Until this summer the family lived in Arizona, where a well-coordinated team of doctors oversaw her care. But since moving back to Yakima, where Jacobie’s parents are, they’ve been taking Gabriela to Seattle Children’s Hospital to see a urologist, neurologist, psychologist and nutritionist. In between big appointments, she does physical therapy at Children’s Village here.
It wasn’t until visiting the Seattle doctors that the Downings learned that Gabriela’s shunt was not properly implanted, and could actually cause seizures. They’re still figuring out how to resolve that problem.
“She has surpassed all of (the doctors’ predictions),” Ramon Downing, 31, said. “She’s 4 years old; she’s not on the same level as every other 4-year-old, but she’s pretty up there, given the circumstances.”
For now, Gabriela is attending pre-kindergarten twice a week at Riverside Christian School. She would love to go more, but her medical needs mean Jacobie is with her almost constantly.
She’s very active with her daughter, and would like to find an aide for school who could keep up.
“I pray that we can find somebody else like that … (with) medical training who’s able to go and have fun, roll on the ground; everything that she wants to do.”
Doctors say Gabriela will never walk, though the Downings refuse to believe that. The little girl models her life after David from the story of David and Goliath, Jacobie says.
“She’s a very strong girl. She loves life,” she said. “She’s, oh my gosh. She’s a gift.”
Written by Molly Rosbach