Tiny survivor now dreams big

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — When he was born 10 weeks premature in 1992, Curtis Davenport Jr. fit in his doctor's palm and weighed all of 12 ounces — the heft of a soda can.

He became the only baby in San Antonio to survive being born so small at that time. Doctors at Wilford Hall Medical Center told parents Curtis Davenport Sr. and Deborah Harrell that their tiny son had a 90 percent chance of experiencing severe problems — brain damage, blindness, organ failure, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities — down the road.

When the younger Davenport, 18, graduated as an honor student from Stevens High School in May, all the gloomy scenarios were dramatically proved wrong, as they have been throughout his remarkable life.

Davenport, who is 5 feet 5 inches tall and weighs 125 pounds, has even higher hopes for the future as he prepares to start classes at Northwest Vista College soon.

"I want to be a New York Times best-selling author," he said, beaming as he sat in his parents' living room on a recent afternoon.

Davenport has a speech impediment — doctors don't know if it's a vestige of being born so small — that worsens when he's nervous, such as when he's being interviewed for a newspaper story. But writing has proved a satisfying outlet for personal expression, he said.

On a coffee table rests stacks of his creative output, including a novel he recently completed.

"It's about 11 people who are called seekers, who can see into the mythology world," he said. "Their goal is to make sure the mythology world and our world never cross."

Davenport's tiny size at birth was caused by a condition called intrauterine growth retardation, in which the fetus fails to grow in the womb. It occurs in 10 percent to 20 percent of the population.

He had a twin who died during the pregnancy. Doctors speculated that when that happened, Davenport ceased receiving the nourishment his brother had been shunting to him in a condition called twin-to-twin transfusion.

He also ceased urinating, which depleted the fluid that normally surrounds a fetus in the womb. He was delivered by cesarean section and was given a 50 percent chance of surviving.

But the feared brain bleeding — the biggest threat to premature babies — never materialized. Dr. Brad Yoder, Davenport's physician at that time, said the stresses his patient endured in the womb turned him into a "fighter."

Lt. Col. Dr. Daniel Diarnberger, current director of the neonatal intensive care unit at Wilford Hall, said medical advances since 1992 have greatly improved the outcomes of babies born "down in the lower limits of viability," particularly when it comes to ventilator technology.

That Davenport had a comparatively longer time in the womb than more severely premature babies probably accounts in part for his excellent outcome, Diarnberger said. Still, babies being born that small are not considered routine affairs these days, said the doctor, whose smallest-baby delivery to date involved a 13-ounce infant.

Tinier babies have survived. A girl in Chicago weighed only 8.6 ounces at birth in 2004. She, too, has thrived, after overcoming early delays, according to news reports.

Harrell and her husband came to San Antonio from Louisiana through careers in the military. Now retired, she was an administrator at Lackland AFB. Curtis Davenport Sr., also retired from the military, is now a gastro-intestinal nurse at the Audie Murphy VA Hospital.

They have a second child, a daughter named Shirlyn, 13.

Harrell credits Wilford Hall's state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit and the early intervention therapy her son received at the hospital during his first four years of life for his amazing success.

Therapists worked with him to overcome speech, walking and motor-skill delays common to premature infants, she said.

Still, when they moved to California and Davenport started first grade, "he was literally two years behind every other student," his father said.

"He was behind in social skills and other things in terms of what he could do," he said.

But Davenport's parents were his biggest advocates during the three years the family lived in California and after moving back to San Antonio. They made sure that teachers sat him in the front row and made sure they didn't let him "fall through the cracks," his father said.

Their child struggled some, but his parents — and motivated teachers — kept him on track.

By 11th grade, "it was like a light turned on," Harrell said. Her son became the high-achieving student who was able to skip finals in his senior year because his grade-point average was so high.

"He's had to work at it," his mother said. "Every A, every B, he's had to work for."

Besides being a writing whiz, Davenport is a talented singer who brought audience members to tears during solo choir performances at church and school, Harrell said.

Lost in the lyrics, his stutter disappears.

Curtis Davenport Sr. shows pictures of his son shortly after birth wearing tiny doll clothes bought at Toys R Us. In another picture, he shows how his size 9 birthstone ring slid all the way up his son's tiny arm.

When his son turned 18, he gave him that ring.

"He earned it," he said.

Another family picture shows Curtis Davenport Jr. decked out in a fancy tuxedo for senior prom, his girlfriend Heather on his arm. He said she flew in from Ohio to attend the dance with him.

The plan now is for Davenport to transfer to Schreiner University in Kerrville for his junior year. And to find an agent for that novel, which sounds tailor-made for Hollywood treatment.

Does he feel like a miracle?

He just shrugged and beamed his winning smile again.

"No, I feel regular," he said. "The journey for me has been great. It really has."


Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com

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