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March 1, 2017 - Feeding Tube Awareness Week at Montgomery Elementary School
River-Kai Wheeler looks like any other seven-year old boy. He likes to jump around, play with friends and swim in the ocean. He’s been swimming since he was 20 months old and he’s been surfing since he was two. But unlike many other children, River Kai can’t go near a microwave, play with magnets or go through airport security. And if you happen to see him, you can’t help but notice that he carries a backpack with him wherever he goes. River Kai’s stomach neurologically does not work and he depends on a feeding tube for sustenance.
While eating is necessary for survival, River-Kai learned at a very early age to associate pain with this basic human function. Photos of him as an infant after a feeding show him with fists balled up, an open-mouthed wail and back arched – a gut-wrenching display of pain. His first surgery was at nine weeks old, and since then River-Kai has endured countless surgeries, procedures, doctor’s visits and studies in order to correctly diagnose and treat his condition. He has worn a feeding tube, or G-tube since he was six months old.
Today, River-Kai is a student in Ms. Koutros’ class at Montgomery Elementary School, where he is just like any other student, except for his backpack, which houses his feeding tube equipment and goes with him wherever he does. His mother, Catherine, began participating in “Feeding Tube Awareness Week”, a nation-wide initiative sponsored by the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation in order to educate others about “tubies”, as people who use feeding tubes are affectionately known.
During this week, Catherine presents to River-Kai’s classmates, where she demonstrates how the feeding tube works and how to care for it as well as shares River-Kai’s health journey as well as his trials and his triumphs. Students have the opportunity to ask questions, touch the feeding tubes and equipment and even play with the Build-A-Bear dolls that Catherine has created using River-Kai’s old G-tubes. The bears help River-Kai learn how to care for his own tube, and also serves as a “hands-on” way for students to learn more about the tubes. They also had the opportunity to see River-Kai’s collection of beads that he has received from “Beads of Courage,” an organization that donates handmade beads to children struggling with various illnesses, throughout the years. Each bead represents a different milestone – a doctor’s visit, a surgery-- and River-Kai’s bag of beads overflows; a testament to his arduous journey to health.
All of Montgomery Elementary School participated in Feeding Tube Awareness week. During this week, students worked on crafts, and created a paper chain that stretched across the cafeteria, each link bearing their name. Students came to school dressed in purple to represent “tubie” awareness and staff throughout the district had the opportunity to participate in a dress down day in exchange for a donation to the Feeding Tube Awareness Foundation, which provides resources to families of “tubies” and works to create positive awareness.
Feeding Tube Awareness Week is part of Montgomery Elementary School’s larger initiative to create a culture of kindness and acceptance while developing admirable character traits in the student body. Learning about, and celebrating each other’s differences is one proven way to help students develop a sense of empathy and understanding.
“When people are scared or unsure of something, the typical response in especially in children is sometimes bullying because they’re scared,” Catherine said. “But, when you educate someone they’re not scared; they can welcome it more and it also encourages the other children to learn to not be scared of what the unknown.”