Judy Wooten was living with her husband on a military base in Germany when she received a call at 4 a.m.
â€œDo you want this child that Iâ€™m getting ready to give birth to?â€ the woman asked her.
Wooten, then 40, had adopted a baby girl, Erica, a year before. The girlâ€™s birth mother was the callerâ€™s friend.
â€œI guess she felt like she needed to decide who would get her child,â€ Wooten said. â€œShe didnâ€™t want just anyone to have it.â€
Wooten and her husband did adopt the baby, who was born premature and weighed 6 pounds. They named him Zachary.
â€œI figured we would have some problems down the road,â€ Wooten said.
By time Zachary was 3, it was clear he was autistic and suffered from multiple types of seizures. The news was hard to take.
â€œI cried a lot at first, and I kept saying â€˜I donâ€™t know what weâ€™re going to do,â€™â€ Wooten said.
After the initial shock, however, Wooten and her husband dedicated themselves to taking care of their disabled child. Doctors said Zachary wouldnâ€™t live to the age of 5.
Now 16, Zachary has proven to be a survivor, but life has not been easy.
â€œHe would have 20 seizures a day,â€ Wooten said. â€œWe would spend three days in the hospital, home two and then back for three more. They would get worse. Weâ€™d try every medication on the market. It was unreal.â€
The major breakthrough in handling Zacharyâ€™s condition came when he was 9 years old â€“ Zachary had a vagus nerve stimulator implanted in his chest with wires leading internally to the vagus nerve in his neck.
Wooten, who is a nurse, researched her sonâ€™s condition extensively and pushed for the implant. She was met with resistance from many doctors. They felt Zacharyâ€™s condition wouldnâ€™t be affected and he was too young and too thin for the procedure, Wooten said.
Instead, the VNS lessened Zacharyâ€™s seizures and changed his life enormously.
â€œNow he gets to go horseback riding,â€ Wooten said. â€œHe gets to go swimming. These are things you will not do when you get seizures.â€
Sheâ€™s glad she fought for Zachary to have the implant.
â€œI think every child should have the option to have this because theyâ€™re not going to die of it,â€ Wooten said of the VNS. â€œIt can be taken out if it doesnâ€™t work, and you donâ€™t know if itâ€™s going to work until youâ€™ve done it.â€
Not only has Zachary become more physically active, his behavior has also improved and heâ€™s learning more in school.
Just the other day, he spelled out â€œC-O-Wâ€ for his mother.
â€œThese three-letter words are amazing to me,â€ Wooten said.
And while things have improved in the Wooten home, Zacharyâ€™s family knows life wonâ€™t change completely.
â€œHeâ€™s disabled and this is our life and the Lord gave him to me for a reason,â€ Wooten said.
Sheâ€™s never regretted taking in the tiny newborn 16 years ago.
â€œI was 40 when Zachary was born, so itâ€™s not like I was a young mother. I think a young mother would just fall apart,â€ she said. â€œYou get so confused. You just donâ€™t know what to do.â€
Wooten has spent plenty of her time caring for Zachary frustrated, but the experience has also been fulfilling. Zachary throws temper tantrums, but he also tells his mother â€œI love you.â€
â€œHeâ€™s just special,â€ Wooten said. â€œThereâ€™s just something about him.â€
by Sarah Grano