A new boy

January 24, 2018
Messiah has grown leaps and bounds at RMHC Toronto
Messiah and Gendlyne Smith

To see Messiah Smith today, you would never know what he’s been through. When you see him waddling around, curiously touching everything he can, you wouldn’t guess that just months ago he was paralyzed on his right side. When you hear him cheerfully babble, you wouldn’t know that until recently he wasn’t speaking at all. And unless you notice the scar on his head, you wouldn’t know that the 20-month-old has had multiple brain surgeries. 

Messiah has made leaps and bounds in his development this month, and his parents give much of the credit to how happy he is in his new home: Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto. He and his parents, Gendlyne and Darren, moved in on Jan. 1 after a very difficult year. 

Messiah Smith in the hospital, then walking down the stairs

The Smiths came to Toronto in May from their home in Turks and Caicos after Messiah fell and hit his head, eventually causing a stroke, seizures and brain bleeding. These complications were caused by a genetic blood disorder, and a complication with his medications made his condition quite dire. The specialized care he required is unavailable on his small island, so Messiah needed to come to Toronto.

While the Smith family would normally have been welcome to stay at RMHC Toronto, Messiah developed a bacterial infection from his antibiotics that made him a risk to other patients at the House. Until it could be cleared, he and Gendlyne moved into a rental apartment near the hospital. Darren visited as he was able, but needed to stay in Turks and Caicos to work. 

The months spent in that apartment were some of Gendlyne’s darkest days.

“I kept a diary during that time, and I wrote every day how isolated I felt and how this was not right for Messiah’s development and social skills,” she says. “It was just him and I there, not knowing anyone.”

By the end of 2017, Messiah thankfully fought off his infection and his family came to stay at RMHC Toronto. Things improved immediately.

Darren, Gendlyne and Messiah Smith

“I walked in and said, ‘Is this what we’ve been missing?’” says Gendlyne. “After being alone for so long, to walk in and see other families and to find everyone so welcoming, I thought, ‘I don’t care if they charge me the same as Airbnb! I will pay it!’”

Messiah has been a new child since coming to the House, say his parents. 

“Since coming here, he’s developed this voice,” says Gendlyne. “Messiah is so much more vocal than he ever was. He has a brain injury, so interacting with others is the best thing he could ever do.”

“He loves climbing up and down the stairs here,” says Darren, which is remarkable given that just months ago, he was paralyzed on his right side. The physical therapy is working, and being here is “like his own extra therapy. He’s so joyous. Some mornings he just wakes up laughing.”

The Smiths hope to be here for another six weeks or so, until doctors can be sure Messiah is well enough to return to Turks and Caicos. They’re apprehensive about returning, and not just because of his health. Their home was destroyed by Hurricane Irma last fall.

House with hurricane damage

“Half of our house is gone,” says Darren, who spent time rebuilding before coming to see his family in November. “After all we’ve been through, I just need to be around my family.”

If there’s one thing the Smiths look forward to leaving behind in Canada, it’s winter.

“Oh my goodness – it’s so cold here!” laughs Gendlyne.

“I thought snow was fun for 10 minutes, and then I was like, ‘Whoa – this is freezing!’” adds Darren.

But before they leave, they do want Messiah to experience snow for the first time.

“Now that he’s doing better, once it snows again we will take him outside and build a snowman.”