They called him a gladiator — locked in the fight of his life. For his life.
A battle to breathe in. To breathe out.
To take in enough sustenance and medicine to carry his little broken body over one hour to the next.
To love and be loved in great and elemental ways.
On Friday, worn out with the effort, Jared Patton finally lost that battle.
He died in the arms of his doting grandmother, his "Nina," Kathy Stowe.
He was 3 years old.
"From the coughing and gagging that he was doing from the cerebral palsy lately — that had really made his body weak. He was so weak," Jared's grandfather, Steve Stowe, explained Monday. "Actually, he was in Kathy's lap sitting on the couch in his favorite place in the world when he passed.
"It's one of the things we prayed for the hardest — 'Don't let it be in an emergency situation where they were sticking needles in him and his being afraid.' So it was just as it should be. The person that cared for him 24 hours a day — that's where he was. He loved his Nina."
To say it was reciprocal is understatement. From the moment his grandparents took him in as an infant, Jared became the axis of their lives. Born healthy, Jared was violently shaken by his father, his brain battering against his skull till portions of it died off.
He was then 6 weeks old.
That's when his battle began. Against devastating brain trauma rendering him so disabled he would never walk, talk or grasp a toy. Against cerebral palsy, scoliosis, partial blindness and severe sleep disorder. Consigned to a crib, stomach tubes, trachea tubes and loving arms that tended him 'round the clock for as long as he needed them.
He became an unofficial poster child as Steve founded Shaken Baby Syndrome Awareness of Virginia to spare other babies, other families, the same heartache.
About 50,000 babies suffer shaken baby syndrome every year. Some 2,000 die from it. The remainder struggle with permanent physical and mental debilitations such as blindness, hearing loss, mental retardation and paralysis.
Every day, Jared's family struggled to transcend his physical limits. Often, they succeeded.
In a memorial service Tuesday afternoon, his Uncle Pete took the podium, wiped at his eyes and announced to the chuckles of about 100 mourners, "My name is Peter Benoit and I'm a Jared-holic."
"Jared was pretty cool," Benoit said, despite the toddler's daily regimen of enough medications to "stop a bull moose in full charge."
The two of them "went on a lot of 'missions' together," he joked. "When everybody was sleeping, we snuck out — it was a little crazy. He did have quite a few girlfriends. Some day I'll show you a picture of him in a tutu.
"But he enjoyed our chats. He knew my voice and his face would get radiant. And he'd get that half-smile smirk on his face. Some of the best conversations of my life."
"There was such a feeling of life and joy that emanated from that boy," said Alice "Elk Moon" Call, who baptized Jared earlier this year and officiated at his funeral. "He was such a bright spirit."
"Every morning he woke up and no matter what the day was like, he had joy," said Kathy. "He was so happy just to wake up."
But the battle was bound to get the better of him. The life expectancy of shaken babies is about five years.
"The past week, he was very weak, and he was getting really tired," Kathy recalled late Monday. "So every night before he went to sleep, after we did his prayers, we would tell him that it was OK if he needed to go. That he didn't have to fight any more. That we would take care of each other and he would get some rest."
And so as Jared sat with her looking at the Christmas tree, she said, "his little heart just stopped."
"No alarms. No vital signs," Kathy said. "He went with grace and with dignity. But, more than anything, he went with peace."
In Jared's name, state Del. Glenn Oder, R- Newport News, has submitted a proposal to the office of legislative services for research and review. His goal is a resolution or legislation to adopt the best practices of other states to educate new or at-risk families about shaken baby syndrome.
"This was a guy who never said a word, and his life spoke volumes to adults everywhere," Oder said Tuesday. "I think his life is one of awareness — for me as a legislator, becoming aware of how fragile babies are."
If legislation is enacted, Oder says he'd like to name it Jared's Law: "It puts a human face on it."
Today, the Stowes plan to meet with the Williamsburg- James City County Commonwealth's Attorney's office about filing additional charges against Jared's father.
David Curtis Patton had earlier been convicted of abusing Jared and is serving five years.
"God is merciful," Uncle Pete said at the service. "Mer-ci-ful. Jared suffered in this world. And when God took him, he took him swiftly. No needles. No jabs. I thank God that he went without suffering. And I thank Jesus Christ that I knew him."
Then he asked congregants to close their eyes and visualize Jared in "his new perfect body," running along streets of gold, yelling at the top of his lungs — "it's pure love."
"Now," he said, "I want you to imagine if Jared was never shaken."
Contact Dietrich at 247-7892 or email@example.com.
More charges possible • Sandy Conyers, the Williamsburg-James City prosecutor who handled David Patton's case in 2007, said further charges would be considered now that Patton's son, Jared, has died. • David Patton is serving a five-year prison sentence handed down by Williamsburg-James City Circuit Court Judge Samuel Powell in 2007. Conyers said the commonwealth's attorney's office is awaiting a medical examiner's report on Jared's death. "We haven't received anything yet regarding the cause of death," Conyers said Tuesday. "Any further charges will depend on the cause of death."