Jared Patton: Shaken baby boy 'went with peace'

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."

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