Ed Grisamore

This Byron teen is defying the odds after being labeled ‘failure to thrive’ at birth

Patrick Odom came into the world with a whimper, not a bang.

For his first few shaky moments, he did not breathe. He had to be resuscitated in the delivery room at the Houston Medical Center on Jan. 6, 2003.

He spent his early childhood in the revolving door of doctor’s offices and hospital rooms. His medical chart was so thick it weighed almost as much as the tiny boy’s whose name was at the top of it. For Patrick’s first 18 months, he either was at or below his birth weight.

The three-word diagnosis was as chilly as the cold steel of the doctor’s examining table.

The medical definition of “failure to thrive” is when a child’s body size is significantly below that of other children his or her age or gender. Patrick was the runt of the litter, stuck on the bottom rung of the growth chart. At 8 years old, he still was wearing toddler clothing.

“The doctors talked like he wasn’t going to be here, that he probably wouldn’t live very long,’’ his mother, Julie, said. “They told me not to get attached to him.

“But I got attached. I’m still attached.’’

Patrick now is 16 years old and living proof that “failure to thrive” should never mean “failure to try.’’ The past four months have been among the most accomplished of his life.

In July, he became an Eagle Scout in a ceremony at the Centerville Lions Club. Earning an Eagle badge is no walk in the park. Since the inception of the national award in 1912, 0nly 2 percent of the young men involved in scouting have achieved the rank of Eagle.

He also serves as president of the Youth Leaders of the Georgia State Bowling Association. Last month, at a youth tournament in Savannah, he bowled a perfect 300 game.

That’s 12 straight strikes. Every pin went down.

Failure to thrive?

You could have fooled me.

The road has not been easy, at times filled with potholes and roadblocks. But plenty of people have helped pave the way.

Patrick didn’t start talking until he was 7 years old. He lagged behind in most areas of academic development.

“He couldn’t even draw a line,’’ his father, Mark, said. “Everything normal kids could do at his age, he couldn’t even start to do.’’

Because of his small stature, Julie decided to home-school Patrick. She was concerned other children might pick on her son, even bully him.

When Patrick began Scouting, Linda Underwood began to work with him. She was a special education teacher and had a child in the same troop. Later, a saint named Alicia Verhage helped Patrick begin to reach his potential. She had a background in education and home-schooled her children.

“She noticed Patrick was having trouble reading,’’ Julie said. “He couldn’t read well, and he didn’t want to read in front of other people.’’

Alicia offered to let Patrick come to her house every week so she could tutor him in reading and other subjects.

(Alicia died in January 2017. At his Eagle Scout ceremony, Patrick dedicated his mentor pin to her, and her family was there to accept on her behalf.)

Patrick still is home-schooled. He is a sophomore and on track to graduate. Math is his favorite subject.

His mother credits scouting as a having a positive influence on his academics, social skills and self-esteem.

“He was really into merit badges and earning them,’’ she said. “A lot of them involved reading and research. It was a matter of him learning and talking to other people.’’

Patrick still has catching up to do in some areas. But he has no major health issues. He loves bowling, of course. Since injuring his shoulder, he has adapted to a two-handed delivery with his 15-pound ball.

He also has a passion for racing go-carts. In fact, one day he wants to race Indy-style cars.

No “failure to thrive” there, either. Full speed ahead.

Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.

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