Look at that face. Look at that smile. I just wanna pinch those cheeks and nuzzle his nose. Lucas Warren was announced as the winner of Gerber's 8th annual photo search for a 'Spokesbaby' and $50,000 prize.
“Lucas’ winning smile and joyful expression won our hearts this year, and we are all thrilled to name him our 2018 Spokesbaby,” said Bill Partyka, CEO and president, Gerber. “Every year, we choose the baby who best exemplifies Gerber’s longstanding heritage of recognizing that every baby is a Gerber baby, and this year, Lucas is the perfect fit.”
Some other parents could not agree more. Patty Heffernan remembers being home with her third child Chris. Her son was diagnosed with Down's Syndrome shortly after being born through genetic testing. She distinctly recalls seeing commercial after commercial for all manner of baby products. Diapers, formula, toys and more, yet none of the babies looked like her son.
So she started a letter writing and phone campaign. She talked to people at Johnson & Johnson, Pampers and a number of other companies. She distinctly remembers talking to one woman and telling her there were beautiful babies with Down's Syndrome too. The woman on the phone told her she had an excellent point. That was 17 years ago.
Michael Frisbee remembers an awkward conversation with doctors when his wife was expecting their fourth child. Because she was at an age where an amniocentesis is often recommended the doctor suggested one. The couple pushed back on why it was necessary. No test was going to change their pro-life stance and the doctor backed down immediately. When John was born, he was diagnosed with Down's syndrome as well.
Patty was told by Chris's pediatrician that her son would likely not have an IQ over 25 and would probably never know his own name. Refusing to believe anyone could predict what Chris would be able to do at 10 days old she changed doctors and never looked back. Good thing too. Chris was the first child with Down's syndrome to receive First Communion at their church. He played T-ball, soccer and learned to swim and ride a bike. He started Kindergarten in a regular public school classroom and that is where Patty learned it was the adults, not the kids who had reservations.
She remembers being stopped at the deli by another parent who said they wished they had been "warned" about Chris being in class so they could prepare their own children. Patty thought to herself, "Prepare them for what?". And Chris' classmates felt the same way. They included Chris from the beginning and probably taught their parents and teachers more about love and acceptance than was taught the other way around.
Michael says from a very young age, John has seemed to grab the world by the tail. Building on the love and faith from home he approached the world with confidence from a young age and entered the regular classroom. Eventually his parents decided to homeschool him because the public school was not meeting his needs and in some cases lowered expectations for John. Michael says if they encountered resistance or trepidation, they just carried on until people got comfortable. He can't think of anyone John has not won over. Including the entire Oklahoma University cheerleading squad.
Chris is now 17 and will be graduating with the same class he entered kindergarten with. Patty says Chris has always been the underdog his peers cheer for and they make sure he is included in everything from school sports to high school dances. He was the manager of the freshman football team and will be going to the Winter Whirl this weekend. After graduation he will enroll in a job training program and continue to get tutoring for reading. As a result of knowing Chris some of his classmates have actually decided to pursue Special Education degrees.
John is 13 and like his father loves all things geek. Superheroes are a favorite for him and he and his dad go to the premiere of Marvel and DC comics movies along Star Wars, Star Trek. You get the picture.
Chris and John are not just amazing kids in their own right, they are central to the lives of their family. Patty says having Chris in her life has made her a more accepting person and taught his siblings the same lesson. She recalls early intervention with Chris and sitting in the circle with mothers whose children were terminally ill. She would leave those sessions knowing she was blessed to have Chris. Chris is included with his siblings friends and they root for him just like his classmates do.
Michael puts it simply: "I have five fingers. Every one of them is different and I need them all. Every one of my kids is different and they have made me who I am. They have taught me far more than I ever learned in school or from books." He says he looks at the way John treats the world, wide-eyed, positive and generous and he want to be more like his son. And someday he hopes to work a room the way John does.
Both of these parents were thrilled to see Lucas chosen as the Spokesbaby for Gerber. Because just as Chris and John have taught so many around them that every life has value and that differently abled is not disabled, Lucas has a chance to show the world.