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What the future beholds

5/12/2013

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

Daughter of the late LaVerna Gasper

GRAINFIELD -- Paige Tuttle smiled one day last week while answering a question about her height.

"Four feet, 11 and three-quarter inches," said Tuttle, a senior at Wheatland-Grinnell High School.

The not-quite-5-foot-tall teenager has become quite accustomed to using fractions when talking about measurements that pertain to her life.

She was just 9 5/8 inches when she was born a little after noon Nov. 8, 1994. Paige's weight also is listed in fractions on her birth certificate. There is only a dash drawn on the birth weight line for pounds. The ounces section reads 11 3/4.

Paige, born 15 weeks premature at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita, is legally blind because of scar tissue left after doctors did laser surgery on her retinas shortly after her birth. She can make out some colors, although she says "everything is blurry."

But all that is in the past, and as far as Paige is concerned, just a blip on her life history.

Just like she has for 18-plus years, Paige is moving forward.

Paige was to graduate along with 11 classmates at Wheatland-Grinnell today. Next month, she will start a summer class at Colby Community College, where she plans to continue her education full-time in the fall.

And July 6, she will be married to Andrew Todd, a longtime acquaintance she met at her church when she was in eighth grade.

"For most kids, it's a milestone to graduate from high school and a milestone to go to college and another to get married," said Paige's dad, Leon Tuttle. "Not very many people do it all in a span of two months."

As anyone who knows his daughter will tell you, Paige isn't like many people.

Paige doesn't have a favorite subject in school.

"I like them all," she said.

And why not?

Academics has been a strength for Paige, who will graduate third in her class with a 3.78 grade-point average. The two students ahead of her have perfect 4.0 GPAs. She has been on the scholars bowl team since seventh grade and helped lead the Thunderhawks to state this year.

Paige credits a lot of people for her success, with her parents at the top of the list.

Her mom, Donna Tuttle, was 25 weeks pregnant with her first child when she was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia, a life-threatening occurrence of seizures during pregnancy.

Doctors at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita told the young couple that to save Donna's life, she would need to give birth immediately. The only chance of the baby's survival, and a small one at that, was if they took the baby by Caesarean section -- a surgical procedure less stressful on the baby, but one that requires a longer recuperation time for mother, than natural birth.

The Tuttles decided without question on the C-section.

So Paige Nicole Tuttle came into the world as a fighter -- albeit a tiny fighter, with footprints the size of a Barbie doll.

Told several times during the next few hours, days and weeks their daughter wouldn't survive, the Tuttles called on their faith to carry them through.

They kept a vigil by her side in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Wesley. When they couldn't be there in person, they laid a recorder with their voices on it next to her. Despite her delicate birth weight and lungs that "were as big as a speck of dust," Donna said, her daughter grew into a picture of good health.

When Paige came home in March 1995 -- about the time of her original due date -- the tiny 4-month-old girl, surrounded by loving family, not only survived but flourished.

Her parents soon learned Paige was like a sponge when it came to learning, and they began exploring ways for her to attend school in Grainfield.

"We could have sent her away to sight school," Donna said. "But we wanted her to be around people who loved her and accepted her for who she is."

So with the help of her parents and personnel at area educational service centers, Paige started learning Braille in preschool. She takes notes on her BrailleNote, a computer-type device with the Braille alphabet, and also does a lot of her lessons on a regular laptop computer.

"I've thrived in the public school system and my classes," Paige said. "The only thing I've ever needed help with is math because it's visual."

Paige has attended school with the same classmates all 13 years, occasionally getting extra help with subjects such as math.

"She is an amazing young woman," said Judi Feldt, the special education teacher in Grainfield. "I've learned so much from her."

So, too, have others.

Paige has been asked to give presentations for different organizations and has worked as a mentor at a camp for visually impaired children.

She does chores around home such as setting the dinner table, emptying the dishwasher and even picking up twine from bales her dad feeds cattle on their family farm southeast of Gove.

"We've always treated her like our younger daughter, no different," Donna said of younger daughter Faith, who the Tuttles named as a reminder of their "faith to try again."

"I feel like if you treat kids like a normal person, that's how they're going to act."

Now, it's on to the next chapter of life for Paige.

She will leave behind her best friend -- Faith, now a freshman at Wheatland-Grinnell -- and attend college classes at Colby. Following the wedding, Paige's new husband will continue his stint in the U.S. Marine Corps overseas before coming home in 2015.

Eventually, Paige and Andrew would like to make their home near Gove, where Paige plans to lead her adult life in much the same manner she did her childhood.

"I don't think of myself as disabled or handicapped," Paige said. "It's just the way God's made me."

Paige admits that going through life in a visual world has its challenges. But it's something she relishes.

"I can't see facial expressions, so I have little to no verbal clues," she said. "And that could be a setback. But I don't let it be. It makes me stronger."

That positive attitude, Paige said, "makes living a normal life a lot easier."

"I'm extremely blessed to be alive," she added. "According to everything, I shouldn't be sitting here today, medically speaking."

She has only one explanation of why she survived as a baby.

"It's only because of God," she said. "He's got a purpose for me."