PFLUGERVILLE, Texas (KXAN) — High school graduation is a big day in the life of students and parents. Flashback 18 years ago, the McCarty family never believed it would be their reality.
Their son, 18-year-old Ryan, was one of Central Texas’ smallest surviving babies at birth and he tried on his high school cap and gown for the first time Friday.
“Feels good,” Ryan said. “Feels good to wear.”
He will don the graduation outfit again Saturday night for Hendrickson High School’s big day.
Mary and Charles McCarty, his parents, struggled to get here. Ryan was born severely premature. St. David’s Hospital doctors weighed him at slightly less than one pound—15.5 oz. to be exact—when he was born at 23 weeks. At the time, he was the hospital’s smallest surviving baby. His twin brother, Aaron, died days after their emergency birth.
“They had told us that he pretty much had a zero percent chance of coming home,” said Mary. “They said if he did make it, he would probably be blind, deaf or have cerebral palsy.”
Ryan survived all of that. But, there were some worries along the way. Like when he was diagnosed with a higher-functioning form of autism at age nine. In high school, there was a constant fear of failing his classes.
“Some of the science classes, I was struggling,” Ryan said. “They were harder than others.”
St. David’s doctors called Ryan a “miracle baby.” Back in the late 90s, medical workers didn’t have today’s medical advances and cutting-edge equipment. Even though doctors have new tools at their fingertips, caring for preemies is still precarious. Nowadays, babies born in the earliest stages — like Ryan — have a 20 percent survival rate. Those who do make it have a higher risk of slow motor skills, chronic lung diseases and lower IQ levels.
For the McCarty family, Ryan’s graduation will be a celebration of his education and life.
“Oh, I’m taking Kleenex,” his mother said. “And, they’ll hear us. We’ll be yelling. We’re very proud.”
Ryan said the next step is getting a summer job. He also wants to enroll in a two-year life-skills course to get him ready for college. After higher education, he wants to become a horticulturist or a meteorologist.