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Mary Free Bed early development program helping West Michigan newborns

Posted at 7:58 AM, Nov 01, 2021

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Strength often can’t be measured by size as much as by what’s inside a person that truly makes them a fighter.

Three-year-old Mason Wright is proof of that here in West Michigan.

His story began back in 2018, when he was born at 31 weeks old, weighing just two pounds and 14 ounces.

“I didn’t get to hold him right away,” his mom, Stephanie Wright, said. “They took him almost immediately into the NICU.”

That’s where Mason spent the next seven weeks.

“It was very day-to-day," said his dad, Josh Wright. "I didn’t know what to expect for the days to come. I felt helpless, like I couldn’t help my own son.”

Once Mason was finally able to leave the NICU, his parents got referred to a new program at Mary Free Bed.

Mason was actually the first patient at the rehabilitation center’s early development program.

“Our purpose is to help identify any developmental problems or any issues that kids are having as kids are growing in the early years, for an early identification so that we can treat early,” Dr. Lisa Voss said. “The sooner we start the treatment, the better the outcomes tend to be, so we want to jump on that as soon as possible.”

What makes the program so unique is that families have everything in one place, including doctors for medical visits, physical and occupational therapists, nutritionists – a whole team to support these children.

“It’s difficult being a parent of a healthy newborn,” Voss said. “It’s even more difficult to be a parent of a child who was either born early or has some complications or something going on. But the whole thing is scary and nerve-racking. We’re here to understand that and we’re here to be the support and provide that strong backbone and that shoulder to cry on when it’s needed. And the cheerleaders in the background.”

Mason recently graduated from the program, no longer having to be adjusted to meet the growth chart for his age.

“That kid, he just rocked it,” Voss said. “We still have the videos from when he first came in and he was so little.”

Now Mason is climbing up the walls in the clinic, Voss said, which is exactly what the program’s goal was.

And he won’t be slowing down anytime soon, his parents said.

“He’s very strong-willed," Stephanie said. "He's had to overcome all those obstacles and he doesn’t know anything different other than to be a fighter.”

While referrals to Mary Free Bed’s program are recommended, Dr. Voss says they aren’t necessary.