2024 Theme Child
Rudy from Ridgecrest, California

Mr. Rudy Augustus was born at 9:59 in the evening on March 2nd 2023. Due to his positive prenatal screening for Down syndrome, his family knew that his birth story may be a challenging one.  Family back in Wyoming were standing at the ready to help as his planned homebirth began, in case support was needed with Rudy’s early care.  Rudy’s midwife suggested transferring to the hospital when he was not tolerating contractions well. Despite a vigorous first appearance following a natural birth, Rudy went into respiratory failure approximately an hour after birth and, after multiple failed helicopter transfer attempts, was eventually transferred to the Loma Linda NICU the following day via ambulance.  The family scrambled to pick up Rudy’s grandma at the LA airport, transport Rebecca, Rudy’s mom, to be with Rudy at Loma Linda, and drop Grandma in Ridgecrest to care for Rudy’s then 3-year-old sister Evy, all before Tom, Rudy’s Dad, returned to be with his son and Rebecca.

Rudy’s 26-day stay in the NICU was eventful with a blood transfusion, a diagnosis of two heart defects, support for low muscle tone, and feeding challenges.  He received assistance with calorie intake by way of a tube, which delivered Mom’s precious breastmilk. Rudy also received oxygen around the clock in those first few weeks as his body grew stronger and become more capable of supplying and maintaining his own oxygen flow. On the 29th of March, Rudy had mastered the bottle, was breathing on his own, and was generally deemed strong enough to make the trek home to the high desert in Ridgecrest, CA.  It was, however, determined that Rudy would need oxygen going over Cajon Pass, which has an elevation of approximately 4000 feet. Rudy and his family loaded up in their Subaru, looking a bit like the Clampetts after living in the Ronald McDonald house for nearly a month, and headed home to the sound of Rudy’s oxygen desaturation bell dinging almost incessantly.

Fast forward a year later, and Rudy is thriving, thanks to having all his in-home therapy in place, and the support of an exceptional host of specialists at Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC). Included in Rudy’s extraordinary therapy team is California-Hawaii Elks Major Project speech pathologist Michelle Bychek who travels over an hour each way to provide Rudy with feeding therapy, as well as speech therapy.

Thanks to Michelle’s expertise and experience, Rudy is devouring purees and attempting to steal pizza slices and sopapillas right out of his family’s hands! Getting started was a bit intimidating for Rudy’s family as kids with Down syndrome suffer from low muscle tone, which can affect everything in their bodies including swallowing, resulting in a significantly increased likelihood for food and fluids being misdirected into the lungs rather than into the stomach. Being the parents of a child with special needs can be absolutely overwhelming, and it is extremely helpful, even critical, to have exceptional in-home therapy care. The California Hawaii Elks Major Project Inc. is providing Rudy with a service he would likely not receive otherwise as therapy resources are limited in Rudy’s rather rural and isolated high-desert community.

The early intervention speech pathology services that Rudy is receiving through the benevolence of friends and members of the Elks are giving him the tools he needs to get ahead of the curve and maximize his chances of maintaining the ability to keep his lips closed and his tongue in a good position inside his mouth, which is a challenge for many individuals with Down Syndrome due to the impact of the condition on the body.  He is also gaining a rich preparation for soaring in his speech and language skills through the Elks generosity.  The Elks of California and Hawaii stand behind and around this little boy, invisibly, paving the way for a future in which he will thrive.  

Rudy’s family feels that he is destined for success, with an active lifestyle and a kind heart. Outdoor exploration, community involvement, and a lot of reading are among family focuses that will hopefully help Rudy to be a motivated, kind, and curious person. Rudy’s sister was on her pedal bike prior to her third birthday, so Evy will be excited to help Rudy catch up on his Specialized Hotwalk bicycle once he starts walking in order to enable the family to do more adventuring via bike. And, of course, eating is an American family tradition, so being able to anticipate Rudy sitting at the table and eating the same meal as his family in the very near future is a reality that is coming true thanks to Michelle and CHEMPI.


Rudy’s family will be forever grateful for the immense impact the very generous members of Elks have had in their lives, as well as the lives of all the other children and families who benefit from our Major Project here in California and Hawaii. If you all could see the joy on little Rudy’s face when he sits in his high chair and tries a new food, only then would you truly understand the significance of your seemingly small contributions. Rudy’s family is immensely appreciative of your continued support of the Purple Pig and of the thousands of children under your aegis so that they can walk, talk, see, play, EAT, and ride bikes!


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