When Robbie Matthews was born, the doctor’s first words to his family were, “He will spend his life as a vegetable and should be put into an institution until he passes away.”
During birth, Robbie suffered from meconium aspiration syndrome (MAS). MAS a serious condition in which a newborn breathes a mixture of meconium (first feces or stool) and amniotic fluid into the lungs around the time of delivery. It is a leading cause of severe illness and death in a newborn.
Despite Robbie’s prognosis of permanent brain damage, being unable to walk or speak, and a life expectancy of only four years, Robbie’s family made the decision to ignore the doctor’s recommendation of institutionalization. Instead, the Matthews family decided to live every moment as if Robbie had a long life ahead of him. “I just wanted him to know who we were and to live a life full of love,” says Sharon Matthews, Robbie’s mother. Robbie is now 39 and thriving.
Nonverbal doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say. It means that you will need to listen to me with more than just your ears.by Anonymous
Even from an early age, it was evident that Robbie, despite being nonverbal, functioned well cognitively. “He is a big flirt and has a jovial personality,” says Sharon laughingly recalling the small yet significant moments that indicated Robbie was well aware of his surroundings. “We do not know what he is thinking because he cannot speak, but with a simple look, he can clearly express his feelings.” Toddler-aged Robbie would flash a smile and look of admiration to women, convey frustration with a simple glance when he was woken up early, and be the first person in the room to laugh at jokes.
Robbie loves his freedom and having his own space. He enjoys going on adventures, especially to the aquarium and to his grandmother’s lakeside home. His hobbies include going to the movies, bowling, swimming, and playing softball with the Dream League.
Orange Grove quickly became a second family to Robbie and his family. Robbie first came to Orange Grove at five years old to participate in the children’s services academic program. He earned his high school diploma at the age of 22. After graduation, Robbie entered Orange Grove’s Intermediate Care Facilities (ICF) adult program. The ICF department provides comprehensive and individualized health care and rehabilitation services - “active treatment” - with the goal of helping each individual maintain as much independence as possible. Typically, individuals served through ICF have the highest care needs and have 24/7/365 staffing, with nursing care available around the clock.
Sharon credits the stimulation Orange Grove’s person-centered programs provide for how well Robbie is doing today. “They knew so much that I would’ve never discovered on my own. They taught our family the best way to position equipment, best treatment practices, and have walked alongside us as we have tackled life’s many challenges,” Sharon states.
When a rare opportunity arose for Robbie to move into one of Orange Grove’s ICF residential group homes, Sharon faced one of the hardest decisions of her life. However, Robbie’s ear-to-ear grin as he entered his new home was all the proof she needed that he was ready to live an independent life. “It was a bittersweet moment,” says Sharon. “I was terrified of letting him go but overwhelmed with happiness because I never thought he would live long enough to move into a group home.”
People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don't believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can't find them, make them.by George Bernard Shaw
Robbie and his family are an inspirational example of making the best of life’s circumstances, no matter how impossible to overcome they may seem. Robbie is a shining star and truly loved by his Orange Grove family.