Fritts family celebrates memory of lost baby

Birthday party is fundraiser for for cancer research
Jan. 23, 2014 @ 08:34 AM

Gavin Fritts loved fire trucks.

He also loved Oreos, Doritos and the Beach Boys – especially the song “California Girls.” He adored his big brother, Dylan.

Gavin had bright blond, flyaway hair – “crazy hair,” said his mom, Stephanie – and huge blue eyes. Strangers would stop Stephanie Fritts in the grocery store and tell her Gavin looked like an angel.

Those comments seemed a little strange to Stephanie then, but they resonate with her now. The Frittses – Stephanie, Harvey and 9-year-old Dylan – lost Gavin two years ago to an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor, a type of incurable children’s cancer. Gavin died Jan. 5, 2012, about two weeks short of his first birthday.

“He was a perfect baby,” Stephanie Fritts said. “A perfect baby. Never did cry, you could lay him down – just happy.”

Though he’s no longer physically with them, last year the Frittses threw a birthday party for the happy, blue-eyed baby they lost, and they plan to do it every year. They invite the public, charge $5 for admission, serve food, and offer a wide array of games for kids. All of the proceeds are donated to the American Childhood Cancer Organization. This year’s event is scheduled for this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

“We do the birthday celebration to help fight cancer and remember our baby,” Stephanie Fritts said. “And hopefully to share our faith – because we couldn’t have gotten through it without God. We still can’t.”

The Frittses raised about $3,200 last year for childhood cancer research. It was, Stephanie Fritts said, the easiest thing she’d ever planned. So many people rallied around her to help.

Gavin’s medical troubles started with his birth – but for most of his 11 months of life, nothing seemed severe.

The day he was born, he stopped breathing and was placed into an infant intensive care unit. Tests and blood work confirmed he was fine, and his parents took him home, breathing sighs of relief.

In March 2011, Gavin had surgery on several hernias. The surgery went well; his parents took another deep breath and brought him home.

Later, Harvey and Stephanie found out Gavin would have to wear a helmet to correct the roundness in his head. He also had small holes in his heart, but doctors said they weren’t concerned and that the holes would close in time.

In late November, Gavin started having urinary issues. Doctors discovered a large polyp in his bladder which, after surgery, they said wasn’t cancerous.

But Gavin never fully healed from that surgery. The week of Dec. 11, 2011, he got extremely fussy, and his right eye started to droop. Stephanie Fritts thought her son might have an earache – he’d never fussed, always been happy and content. She brought Gavin to his pediatrician, who sent her straight to Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem. A barrage of tests led to the diagnosis of an atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumor. On Christmas Eve, the Frittses were told to take Gavin home. There was nothing the doctors could do.

During his last days, Gavin was in severe pain. He was comfortable only on the living room floor, so the family rallied around him, sleeping there instead of in their bedrooms.

Through most of that time, Gavin hurt too badly to be held. But on the day he died, Stephanie Fritts was able to hold him – something she still regards as a gift.

Now, Gavin’s mother and father and brother keep his memory alive even in the smallest aspects of their lives. They’re living in a new house, but the foyer is full of framed baby photos, and wooden letters spell out “Gavin” on the wall. Upstairs in Dylan’s room, there’s a mural – a sweeping beach scene – and Gavin is one of the tiny people painted on the beach. He’s portrayed wearing his helmet.

Some days are worse than others, Stephanie Fritts said, but each day, they’re getting through it – and finding purpose in it. They hope the story of their loss and their love for Gavin will lead others to faith and to God, Harvey Fritts said.

And the yearly birthday parties have been a part of their healing as well.

“I think it’s helped us heal and it’s helped us celebrate,” Stephanie Fritts said. “It just helps us know that it’s still okay.”