Technology has been a godsend for Granite City residents Adam and Charli Trawick.
Their 6-year-old son, Mathew, can’t speak because of developmental delays resulting from his cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He communicates using a speech-generating electronic device that looks like an iPad.
If Mathew is hungry, he clicks on food icons to get the device to request “pizza,” “grilled cheese” or “pancakes.”
“He rarely wants vegetables,” said Charli, 29, laughing.
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We try to make sure he doesn’t feel like he’s disabled. We don’t not take him to restaurants or the park because he’s in a wheelchair.
Charli Trawick on her parental philosophy
That’s her way of saying that Mathew, despite his challenges, has many of the same needs, desires, interests and abilities as other children.
He can operate a smartphone at lightning speed when watching “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and other cartoons on YouTube. He loves going to the St. Louis Zoo, City Museum and Cardinals baseball games.
“We try to make sure he doesn’t feel like he’s disabled,” Charli said. “We don’t not take him to restaurants or the park because he’s in a wheelchair.”
“We try to stay as normal as we can,” added Adam, 31. “We don’t want him missing out on anything.”
He’s such a happy kid for what he’s going through.
Diana Stout on Mathew Trawick
The Trawicks’ immediate problem is that Mathew is ready to start using an electric wheelchair, but they don’t have a way to transport it. A used van with adaptive equipment costs $40,000.
Family and friends recently held a spaghetti dinner and set up fundraising accounts through Granite City Steel Credit Union and GoFundMe online (under “Moving Mathew”).
“He has the understanding,” said Heather Like, 35, his former developmental therapist who now lives in Virginia Beach, Va. “He could learn how to operate that chair, and clearly if he can gain those independent mobility skills, it’s something that would help him for the rest of his life.”
Adam is a Teamsters driver for Aramark uniform company. Charli is a stay-at-home mom who quit her job as a Kohl’s department manager to care for Mathew and his brother, Carter, 4.
Charli spends much of her time driving to doctor appointments and physical, occupational, speech and developmental therapies.
“God couldn’t have picked better parents for Mathew,” said family friend Diana Stout, 61, of Mitchell, who has lived across the street from Charli’s parents since 2007.
“They do everything possible ... They wear themselves out to make things as normal as they can for him.”
Charli and Adam were high-school sweethearts. They got married in 2005 and bought a “fixer-upper” house in Granite City.
A year later, Charli suffered stomach injuries in a car accident involving a drunk driver who ran a red light. That caused problems when she got pregnant with Mathew.
“I went preeclampsic at 20 weeks,” she said. “I went on bed rest at 22 weeks, and they ended up taking him at 37 weeks because my blood pressure was 247 over 147.”
Doctors initially thought Mathew was fine and later suspected that colic or acid reflux was to blame for his constant crying.
Eventually, specialists diagnosed spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy that causes stiffness, particularly in his lower extremities. Mathew also has epilepsy.
“He was hospitalized 21 times in the first two and a half years,” Charli said. “It was just awful.”
Many hospitalizations have involved respiratory problems caused by a weakened immune system. Mathew recently underwent surgeries to reconstruct his hips.
He has progressed with therapy but regressed after seizures, losing his speech and other developmental skills before building them back up.
“(The seizures) were short, five or 10 seconds, but he’d have them in clusters,” Adam said. “He’d have one, then another and another.”
The Trawicks have renovated their home, knocking down the wall between the kitchen and living room and installing a laminate floor to accommodate Mathew’s manual wheelchair.
His speech-generating device allows him not only to say when he’s hungry, sleepy or bored but also to answer “yes” or “no” and identify shapes, colors, animals and objects.
Mathew loves listening to music and usually bursts out laughing at his favorite songs, Toby Keith’s “Red Solo Cup” and “Wagon Wheel” by Darius Rucker.
“He’s such a happy kid for what he’s going through,” Diana said.
Mathew is in first grade at Maryville Elementary School in Granite City, where he’s assisted by a special-education aide.
His parents cherish small accomplishments, like when he learned to close his lips around a straw.
“That gives him independence,” Adam said. “He can drink everywhere. He no longer needs a special sippy cup.”
Mathew also would gain independence with an electric wheelchair. He’s not strong enough to move himself around manually, so he has to depend on other people to push.
The Trawicks have been moved by the generosity of local residents trying to help make that happen by donating to the van fund.
“We know that it could be worse,” Charli said. “Our baby is home. He’s alive. He’s healthy.”
How to help
- Online — Donate on the Moving Mathew page of GoFundMe at https://www.gofundme.com/movingmathew.
- By mail — Send a check to Mathew Trawick Fund, Granite City Steel Credit Union, 3970 Maryville Road, Granite City, IL 62040