Twenty-one years ago, Shannon Horner-Shepherd of Port Dover, Canada held her infant daughter in her arms for the very first time.
Like all mothers, Shannon held a world of hope for her daughter in her heart, even though doctors told her that the chromosomal disorder the baby suffered from was “incompatible with life.” She was instructed to take little Gabby home with her to love her for as long as she could, which doctors said would not be more than a year.
Gabby was born with Partial Trisomy 13 or Patau syndrome, which causes cognitive disability and physical problems like weak muscle tone and brain abnormalities. Most children born with this condition don’t even survive a month, but Shannon wasn’t ready to give up on her daughter just yet.
“Doctors said she probably would not live to see her first birthday,” Shannon explained. “They said she would never know the world around her. She would be in a vegetative state.”
Shannon searched for others whose children have the same chromosomal abnormality and soon found a support group where she learned that incredibly, some kids do manage to live beyond their prognoses. She started to fight for her daughter every way she could, and in response Gabby began to thrive.
Gabby is now 21 years old and has the mental capacity of about an 18-month old. She does not speak, but still managed to complete her schooling with help from special classes and aides. Shannon says that her daughter is very much an active participant in her life, and she works hard to give Gabby every opportunity to live a regular life. As Gabby’s senior prom approached Shannon knew she had to find a way to include her daughter.
“She loves being around people, she loves music, she loves to dance. She’s got this great mischievous sparkling personality,” Shannon said. “I want her life to mimic that of a typical developing young adult. Prom was that one place to do something special.”
Shannon and Gabby filmed a short video where Shannon asked eligible men to step up and escort her daughter to prom. “I need someone special who’s willing to take me because I have some special needs,” Shannon said on behalf of Gabby. Incredibly, they received more than 25 offers, but there were two that stood out.
Jeremey Renton, a police constable with the Ontario Provincial Police, also coaches Gabby in sledge hockey for children with special needs. “There was no way I was going to let her not go to prom,” he said. “I know how important prom is … and I know she defeated the odds. I wanted to make sure I was part of that and make it possible.”
Gabby’s second date was Zack Bowman, a college student who had missed his own prom and thought attending with Gabby would be great for them both. “I didn’t see a female living with special needs. I saw a creative and beautiful woman who was looking for a prom date,” he explained.
“They genuinely saw Gabby for who she is,” Shannon said happily.
On the big night, Zack picked up Gabby and gave her a corsage. They then met up with Jeremey, who was out on a police call but still found time to pick up some flowers for his very special date. The trio then went to the prom and danced the night away!
“It was amazing,” Jeremey said. “We danced until we left. She was smiling. She was laughing, she didn’t get off the dance floor.”
Zack was so inspired by his time with Gabby that he decided to start a ball hockey fundraiser to help her and others living with special needs. He hopes this story encourages others to reach outside their comfort zones and make the day of someone special like Gabby. “Take a leap of faith or do a kind act,” he said. “I am really grateful to be a part of Gabby’s life.”
Gabby is a survivor who has already defied the odds! We are so glad that she was showered with love and kindness on her special night. Thank you to the young men who stepped up to give her this quintessential high school experience!
Please share this story to inspire others to never give up and always look for ways to give back to others.
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