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THE nasty scars along his side are all that remain physically from Roarke Moody’s struggle for life.
Moody, a 225-pound senior nose tackle for the Columbus North football team, went through it all so long ago that he seldom talks about the fact he was born prematurely at Columbus Regional Hospital with little chance for survival.
Whether that miraculous journey has embedded a strength that carries him day to day is open to interpretation. No doubt, though, Moody has been able to go above and beyond when others have counted him out.
Sitting in the living room of his family’s tidy Columbus home, Moody related how he had been told to prepare himself to be a bench player his senior season.
He will start tonight against Perry Meridian at Columbus North High School.
That might not be a huge accomplishment around some households in town, but the Moodys tend to see things differently.
“They never gave us any hope when he was born,” his mother, Kelly Moody, said as she clutched a photo album of baby pictures.
These pictures were different. Instead of the mobile hanging over the crib, there was a tank for oxygen. Photos showed his shaved head and the aftermath of an operation which left him with a stent in his head to remove fluid due to bleeding on the brain. He suffered a stroke shortly after birth, and his lungs were not developed. A valve in his heart, which normally shuts off in babies upon birth, did not shut off.
At 2.2 pounds, he was wrapped in cellophane to keep in warmth and to prevent dehydration. Kelly Moody turned the pages of the photo album, which documented each step of her son’s early life, including surgeries and procedures aimed at saving him. The pages went on and on.
She was smiling as she explained each photo.
Why not? Her son was sitting next to her, preparing to finish his high school career and then move forward to college.
It wasn’t something they had expected. Doctors told Kelly and Gary Moody that their son had about a 5 percent chance to develop without severe handicaps. An hour after birth, Pastor Mark Teike raced to the hospital to baptize him. The infant was rushed to the Riley Hospital
for Children in Indianapolis. (Roarke Moody’s brother, Reilly, is
named after the hospital even though his name is spelled differently.)
Nothing that happened in the days that followed gave
the Moodys any reason to expect a positive outcome.
“We thought if he could walk or talk or feed himself, we were going to be lucky,” said Kelly Moody, who had suffered a placental abruption that led to the premature birth.
Whether the miracles that kept happening were medical or
otherwise could be argued, but Roarke continued to improve.
At 9½ weeks, the baby was sent home. At eight months, doctors cleared him from the possibility of having any kind of brain damage. They took him off oxygen and disconnected the monitors that had followed his every breath.
By the time he was 3, Kelly Moody remembered, the doctor picked her son up by the ankles, dangled him upside down and examined all the bruises on his legs.
“He was such a boy,” Kelly Moody said. “He was catching up quickly. There was nothing lingering.”
Well, nothing except that fine motor skills problem.
“I can’t put together Legos or cut a straight line,” he said. “And if I get a knot in my shoelaces, I just kick off my shoe.”
Other than that, life became normal for Roarke Moody, even though he understood that he wasn’t exactly the normal kid.
“It just weighs on me,” he said about trying to understand why he was one of the 5 percent to come through his particular ordeal to lead a normal life. “I touch my side where I had the heart surgery and all those chest tubes ... the scars. It is a constant reminder.
“I see kids who can’t walk or do anything. I feel guilty. Why me? What did I do?”
Then he smiled and quoted former Green Bay Packer star Reggie White. “He said, ‘God places the heaviest burdens on those who can carry them.’”
If Roarke Moody, who is 5-foot-8, has a burden to carry, he seems to be strong enough to handle it.
“Coach (Tim) Bless allowed me to help out in the weight room,” said Gary Moody, who retired from the Columbus Police Department after a 26-year career. “Seeing him practice, lift weights, that all is coming to a close. I can’t wait to see what he will do next.
“I remember when he was a baby, just hoping he would grow up where he would be healthy enough to attend school. Did I think he would play football? As a dream I did. I guess it kind of comes back to me when he is not doing as well as we want him to do, not performing his best on the football field or in school. We need to be thankful he is healthy. You take it for granted, but once in a while there is a reminder.”
When there is a reminder, Gary and Kelly Moody don’t mind telling their son’s story.
“We really don’t mention it unless someone is facing a tough time,” Gary Moody said. “We use it as encouragement to other people. Good things can come from a bad situation.”
The Moodys continue to support March of Dimes, and Roarke Moody said it likely will be a lifetime commitment for him. It was March of Dimes research that led to surfactant therapy that greatly reduced the percentage of premature baby deaths due to respiratory distress syndrome. That was a key to Roarke Moody’s recovery.
Even so, Roarke Moody doesn’t talk much about the ordeal these days. A group of Columbus North football players was asked if anyone knew that their starting nose tackle was 2.2 pounds at birth. They all said no.
“It’s weird to talk about yourself,” Roarke Moody said. “I shy away from it. It’s awkward to hear my parents talk about it. ‘Hey, my son almost died.’ I can’t take the credit for anything.
“Besides, being a teenager, people around you are more talk than walk. And it’s not an everyday conversation.”
Bless did not know of his nose tackle’s struggle at birth.
“Obviously, he overcame it,” Bless said. “He has turned himself into a rock solid football player. It’s the beautiful story of a kid who has worked and worked to get on the field and earn Friday night minutes.”
Those Friday night minutes have been a struggle as well, as North is 2-4 this season. It doesn’t bother Roarke Moody.
“I have a different way of thinking I guess,” he said. “Everyone’s different. I defied death one day. So we are 2-4? So?
“I have been the million-dollar baby, and I don’t know that I have any miraculous expectations. I want to make good grades, make good choices with my friends and mow the lawn on Saturdays.”
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