Gage gives back, and gets a day to remember in return
Tuesday, Nov. 11, 2003, just four days after returning to work from maternity leave, Penny Robinson received a phone call. Her 10-week-old son, Gage, was headed to the hospital.
One day later, while sitting in the waiting room at Children’s Hospital in St. Paul, Gage had his first seizure and doctors told Robinson they didn’t expect him to live.
She didn’t know it at the time, but Gage’s father had shaken him, resulting in a traumatic brain injury that would change their lives.
“It’s definitely a day he’s never going to forget”
Squad cars lined Learning Lane outside Burnside Elementary School Monday afternoon as law enforcement officers gathered and waited for their moment.
As Gage Robinson walked out the front doors of Burnside he was greeted by a crowd of close to 20 officers, with their squad cars stretching almost the entire length of the sidewalk in front of the school, waiting to give him a police escort home to Cannon Falls.
Gage’s fascination with law enforcement started when he was around 4 years old, Robinson said. His traumatic brain injury has left him with very high anxiety, she added, and so Gage always steps into that officer role because it makes him feel safe and he knows the officers are there to protect him.
On April 15, Gage will undergo surgery to straighten the bones in his legs, correcting one of many effects from being hurt as an infant.
In anticipation of the extensive surgery, Robinson put a message on Gage’s Facebook page – Gage Gives Back – asking if any officers could send Gage a card letting him know they were thinking of him before his surgery.
It turned out to be much more than a few simple cards.
“I never expected it to be as big as what it was,” Robinson said.
Gage sat in the front of Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office squad 1021 as Minnesota State Patrol, Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office, Red Wing police, Pine Island police, Cannon Falls police and Prairie Island tribal police blocked intersections and escorted him home.
“This could have been so preventable”
Ten years ago when Robinson went through the birthing classes in Red Wing she said she never heard a word about shaken baby syndrome. She first learned of SBS when Children’s Hospital doctors told her Gage had been shaken.
“I often think back to the day, and my mom lived less than a mile from us and I used to think, ‘If (Gage’s dad) would have only called my mom, she would have come over and rocked him all afternoon,’” Robinson said.
Education and awareness are both key components to preventing SDS and she said both are lacking in the state of Minnesota.
Robinson attends support groups and they have several knit-ins throughout the year to knit purple hats for shaken baby awareness through Period of PURPLE Crying, which is an infant abuse prevention program centered on education about normal infant crying and the dangers of shaking an infant.
The groups send the hats to Iowa, since Minnesota does not participate in the program.
“It saddens me and I keep hoping that one day, (in) Minnesota, we can get them to jump on board so they start utilizing it more here,” she said.
The intent is to let parents and caregivers know it’s normal for babies to cry, it’s OK to set them in the crib and walk out of the room for 10 minutes and it’s OK to call someone and tell them you need help, Robinson said.
“That’s probably the biggest thing because people just don’t realize how devastating it is. Not just to the person it happens to, but to the whole family because everything he goes through we go through right along with him,” she said.
“He’s an amazing little boy”
Gage has critical vision impairment, some behavior issues, anxiety which can be crippling, obsessive-compulsive disorder tendencies, mood disorder and verbal apraxia – which can be compared to someone who has suffered a stroke — all from being shaken.
“I remember it was right before he turned 3, he had a five-word vocabulary and I’m like praying that he would learn to talk,” Robinson said. “And I thought, ‘This poor kid is never going to talk.'”
But Gage defied the odds.
“And now, it’s the opposite, sometimes you just pray for him to be quiet for a little while, because he talks non-stop,” Robinson said with a laugh.
His brain was injured fairly evenly throughout, she said, but through hard work he has been able to overcome some of those obstacles.
“We’ve gone to therapies three to four days a week for 10 years,” Robinson said. “He’s an amazing little boy who works really, really hard to get where he’s at.”
“This kid is going to do amazing things and he is touching many lives”
To help raise awareness during Child Abuse Awareness month Gage, his mother and some members of the HOPE Coalition tied blue ribbons on the squad cars in Red Wing last week. Gage then got a tour of the Law Enforcement Center.
Sgt. Travis Bray of the RWPD, who organized the tour, said the energy Gage has for law enforcement is a refreshing change of pace from the normal day to day.
Gage wants to know everything there is to know about law enforcement, Bray said, adding Gage asked questions he never would have thought of asking.
The best part of the tour for Bray, however, was seeing how happy Gage was.
“It’s pretty humbling to know we can bring that much joy to him just by hanging out with him,” Bray said.
A paraprofessional started with Gage early in his education in Cannon Falls until he transferred to Red Wing. She said Gage was a special kid who was going to touch many people’s lives – people who didn’t even realize they needed to be touched.
Robinson said she didn’t know what to think of this proclamation at first, but she is now starting to see it come true.
Every year Gage and his family participate in a program they started called Gage Gives Back, which is a fundraiser to help the people and the organizations that have helped him. This year they are collecting new and gently used children’s books with the hopes of gathering 11 books a month throughout the year.
Robinson said HOPE Coalition contacted her recently to speak at its candlelight vigil April 30 at the Professional and Community Building, 1407 W. Fourth St. This will conclude Child Abuse Awareness month.
She said they take every chance they get to speak and raise awareness, and Gage gets up and speaks right along with her.
“He works really hard with me to help educate people because he doesn’t want another kid to go through it. He’s often said, ‘Mom, it’s no fun having a brain injury,’” Robinson said. “I’m very proud of him.”
Anyone interested in Gage’s progress after the surgery or how they can participate in Gage Gives Back can visit the Gage Gives Back Facebook page.