CLAREMONT, NC (WBTV) - Every month seems to be awareness for something. For the Abernathy family in Claremont, May is the only one that matters. This is Pediatric Stroke Awareness Month.
9-year-old Cole Abernathy is their beloved son. Much of his story is still being written but his aunt Leslie McIntosh wrote (after getting her sister's permission) to ask if Cole could become one of our amazing #MollysKids.
"People just don't realize," she said. "They think of strokes as thing old people get. Not babies."
Cole had his first stroke in-utero. Hadn't even been delivered. His parents didn't know it happened until he turned 6-months-old and didn't meet certain markers with his regular check-up. An MRI showed the stroke damaged much of the center-left side of his brain.
As he has grown -- he's now in the 3rd grade -- doctors have been amazed that he continues to do certain things, despite the daily obstacles. He's partially paralyzed on his right side. He had no functional use of his right hand and the muscles on his right side are weaker.
But Cole swims. Plays baseball. Basketball. Golf. He's constantly punting a football.
"I've never heard him say the word 'can't'," says Aunt Leslie. "As a result of his stroke he has learning disabilities, severe ADHD and at the age of four he began having seizures. But we've never heard him say 'can't'."
Leslie says her nephew has tried every medication to no avail. In 2014, he had a VNS device (kind of like a magnet) implanted in his neck to help control the seizures. It didn't work. That same month he had tendon transfer surgery (a tendon transfer!) in to help position his hand.
"The doctors at UNC Children's - North Carolina Children's Hospital referred Cole to Boston Children's Hospital this past December," Leslie wrote. "I made that trip with my sister and witnessed firsthand what days are like caring for him and the importance of being an advocate. The amount of medicine Cole takes in one day is mind-boggling."
Cole's parents – Connie and Chris – spent significant time in Boston. They're waiting to see if he's a candidate for epilepsy surgery (read: brain surgery).
They should know by late July or early August.
"My sister and I are both teachers," Leslie wrote. "She works at Oxford Elementary PTO school. I'm at Bandys High School. We work with kids every day who have a variety of needs and require attention and empathy. But we never imagined one of those kids would be ours. Cole teaches us the value of perseverance in the face of adversity. He has made us both better teachers and mothers."
A great message, Leslie. Thank you.
Another message worth pointing out… something Leslie probably didn't even intend.
She wrote me from her work email. The signature at the bottom – something she personalized to be on the bottom of every email she ever sends to anyone she ever writes – is a quote from Lou Holtz.
"Ability is what you are capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it."
You learn from what surrounds you.
If that's the family mentality surrounding Cole, sounds like he's getting his positivity and "can-do" attitude honestly.
Keep us updated, Leslie. And Connie. And Chris. We'll be wondering.