IT’S NO surprise that doctors didn’t expect Donovan Young to live.
He was one pound, nine ounces at birth.
But at age 19, he has graduated high school, is active in church, is a videographer for a local high school basketball program and is preparing to enter Allen University in the spring. Two hundred two pounds removed from what appeared to some to be sure death, he’s an inspiration to his family and his community, a miracle worth celebrating in this season of the miracle birth.
As miracles go, there’s really no clear explanation — at least not of this world — as to how Donovan survived.
But his mother somehow instinctively knew he would. “I never thought he wouldn’t make it,” Stephanie Young told me last week. “I always thought he would get better. It would just take time.”
Doctors told her that Donovan, born premature on March 3, 1995, in Columbia, didn’t have much time.
“The doctors said he might be here for 30 minutes. He might be here for an hour. He might be here for a day,” said Bernice Kinney, Donovan’s grandmother.
If he somehow survived, doctors said, he would be blind, severely delayed and suffer other problems, she said.
Mrs. Kinney said that one doctor told the family: “‘I advise y’all to see him now.’“
“He had nothing good to say about him,” she said.
Mrs. Kinney said she went into the room to see Donovan, praying and reciting Psalm 23. When she saw how tiny he was, her first thought was to go see how her daughter was taking the news. Stephanie Young wasn’t distraught at all. “He’s going to be all right,” she told her mother.
But the next couple of months were rough. Donovan’s lungs weren’t fully formed, and he couldn’t breathe on his own. He had daily transfusions. On three occasions, he stopped breathing.
A letter-sized blanket
Last week, I sat at Mrs. Kinney’s kitchen table and talked with her, Ms. Young and Donovan. At one point, Mrs. Kinney held up an 8 1/2-by-11 sheet of paper to illustrate just how tiny Donovan was at birth.
“You could take this sheet of paper and wrap him up in it and still have some room,” she said.
Donovan’s eyes widened as his grandmother gave the illustration using the letter-sized piece of paper. He would later pick up the paper and gazed at it intently.
Obviously, he had heard these stories many times over the years. I asked him what he thought about it all. “It’s an amazing story,” Donovan said. “I can’t believe it.”
And if you were to meet Donovan today, you wouldn’t believe that he had the challenges he had — but for his family telling you his story. He’s a handsome youth with a great smile and an upbeat personality. He talks about his love of being a big brother to his younger sister, his love of basketball and his plans for his future with laudable passion and hope.
During those three months that Donovan spent in the hospital, his family was there every day.
“I would go in there praying and singing. I couldn’t touch Donovan,” Ms. Kinney said, adding that it was about two months before the family could handle the frail baby.
Mrs. Kinney said Donovan was stretched out, his arms wide with tubes running all over his body. “It reminded me of Jesus on the cross,” she said.
Even as he continued to survive, the prognosis remained bad. “They were saying that he wouldn’t learn, he wouldn’t read, he’d possibly be slow,” Ms. Young said.
During well visits, Donovan only occasionally measured up to other children his age when it came to size, his mother said. He has faced various challenges along the way medically and otherwise; he struggled in school for a couple of years. But the challenges at school subsided when it was discovered that Donovan had a slight hearing problem and steps were taken to help him deal with it.
The power of God
Not surprisingly, the family points to their faith and the power of God when they talk of the miracle that is Donovan Young. His grandmother said they constantly prayed over Donovan. They made sure that he was in church from day one, taught him to pray and seek God and watched over him carefully.
At Francis Burns United Methodist Church, Donovan has participated in children’s church, the acolyte and usher ministries and the youth and male choirs. He worked with a summer enrichment program and participated in the Salkehatchie Work Program for several years. He sang in the gospel choir at Westwood High School.
One of Donovan’s biggest loves is basketball. He has been a fan since about 2, the age at which he began watching ESPN regularly. His mom said he would rather watch sports reports on ESPN than watch regular programming or play video games.
Donovan, who played basketball in recreational leagues at a young age, looked forward to trying out for the high school team. When the time came for ninth-grade tryouts, doctors discovered he had a heart murmur; it would be risky for him to participate.
But Ms. Young talked to the coach and asked if Donovan could have some role with the team. That led to Donovan becoming a manager at Blythewood High School. He would later move to the new Westwood High, where he also served as team manager. While he has graduated, he still remains engaged and is the videographer for coach Terry Dozier’s Westwood club.
Despite sometimes difficult circumstances over the years, Ms. Young doesn’t have any complaints. “I can’t really say it was a bad time,” she said. “It was just something that I had to do.”
Ms. Young said she hopes their story helps someone else. “They might have had a baby that they think is not going to make it. Nothing is impossible. Don’t give up.”
Indeed, there are many looking for hope. Premature birth is the No. 1 killer of newborns in our country, where roughly 500,000 babies are born too soon. About 9,000 of those preterm births occur in South Carolina. Many babies who do survive are at risk of severe health problems and lifelong disabilities. That’s why the work of the March of Dimes and other organizations is so important.
It’s also important to embrace the wonder of those such as Donovan who, despite their struggles, make it.
On Jan. 5 he will begin college at Allen University in Columbia. He wants to major in sports management and eventually become a coach or physical education teacher.
For the first time, Donovan will be going off on his own. “We’ve sheltered him his whole life, trying to protect him,” Ms. Young said. “It’s time.”
Donovan flashed that classic smile, indicating he has no worries. “I think once I go to college I’ll be fine,” he said.
I think he will too.
Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or firstname.lastname@example.org.