By Michael Buhler
Michael McDaniel arguably has fought through more in his three years on this earth than most people do in a lifetime.
Michael, who lives in Haysville, suffered a serious brain injury as an infant and even had to be revived by paramedics, but has made many strides since going to live with the McDaniels, who adopted him in September 2011. Craig and his wife, Leigh, also have adopted Michael’s siblings, Beronica and Harper Illiliana. Craig is a high school teacher at Goddard Academy in Goddard.
“He spent a total of four weeks in the hospital,” Craig said. “When he was released from the hospital, he had lost the ability to swallow, was blind from the brain injury, had no head control, no functional use of his arms or legs, and a seizure disorder.
“Three years later, he has regained the ability to swallow, is learning new ways to communicate, and recently learned how to use a gait trainer and with its aid was able to walk four steps.”
When Michael was eight months old, one of his primary caregivers shook him and tried to drown him, leaving him near death when paramedics arrived. He had to be revived, as he had no heartbeat and was not breathing when paramedics arrived. When authorities discovered Michael’s injuries were because of abuse, they needed a foster home for him
“We were a licensed foster home, but at the time we were not accepting new placements,” Craig said. “The foster agency was aware that Leigh and I both worked in special education and worked with children with disabilities. They thought we were a good fit because of our experience – mostly Leigh’s – and because we lived in the Wichita area, as they needed a home close to Michael’s doctors. Since we also had only one foster child in our home, we were an ideal placement for Michael.”
The abuse that Michael suffered caused him to lose his vision, his ability to suck and swallow, and to lose functional use of his arms and legs. In addition, he had no head control and had to have a feeding tube put in so that he could be fed.
“When Michael first came home, he would moan and cry 18-plus hours a day,” Craig said. “He hated the dark, he hated to be touched, he hated noise, and he did not like people. The only thing that seemed to calm him was to leave him alone in his crib. Even then he still moaned in his crib.”
However, things began to improve with Michael after several weeks in the McDaniels’ home. He began to recognizing people’s voices and would soothe when Leigh or Craig would speak to him.
“He began allowing us to hold him for short periods of time,” Craig said. “We continued holding and cuddling with him, and he now enjoys being held and cuddled. We began working on sucking on a pacifier and when he was able to do that, we started with the bottle with just an ounce or two at a time.
“Once he relearned how to do that, we started feeding him baby food. When he was able to do that we were able to discontinue using the feeding tube and the feeding tube was removed.”
Things continued to improve from there. According to Craig, Michael started rolling and scooting when lying on the floor. He scooted toward people he favored and places he enjoyed, such as air vents.
“He continues to make strides using augmentative communication to communicate his wants and needs,” Craig said. “He has better head control, he can hold his head up for short periods of time and can move his head purposefully and support it with his neck muscles.
“His strength also has developed. When he started using a stander, he could only tolerate three to four minutes, presently he can ‘stand’ for 30-45 minutes. He is learning how to take steps using a gait trainer, though he will most likely never take a step unaided. His seizures continue, though they are now highly predictable and managed thanks to a careful routine and several medications.”
Craig said that his son is a “social butterfly” compared to what he was when he came home.
“He enjoys going to football games – pretty much any sport really – he loves it when folks come over to visit, he loves going to church where several members of the congregation have taken a special liking of him and make a special effort to speak with him every Sunday, including the minister. That is interesting because he loves to squeal and vocalize during the most inopportune times like communion, during prayers, and especially during the sermon.”
The McDaniels have nominated Michael as a Local Hero for National Mobility Awareness Month in May, an annual event sponsored by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA).
“In our opinion, Michael is our hero for all that he has endured and lost – and because of the little boy he has become,” Craig said. “He wakes every day with a smile on his face. His personality and demeanor are almost always positive and happy. We have yet to meet a person that didn’t find his character and personality uplifting.”
If Michael wins the contest, the McDaniels would receive a customized wheelchair-accessible van, which would be a huge boost to Michael and his family.
“The money that we would be spending on the van would shift to durable medical equipment, renovations to make our home wheelchair accessible, and would allow for our other children to continue participating in activities they enjoy,” Craig said.
“At this time, due to Michael’s weight and the weight of the wheelchair, there is a limit who can take him places. This van would allow him to go more places with more people so he would not have to miss out on things and live as fulfilling and normal life as possible.”
For more information on the contest or to vote for Michael, visit www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/michael-mcdaniel-haysville-ks.