GLEN BURNIE, Md. (AP) — Her expressions vary when she looks down at her 3-year-old grandson, Xzavier. Adoration. Sadness. Worry.
Xzavier’s face remains blank.
“He’s not your typical child. He might not ever be,” Roberta Virts said, wiping away tears while clutching the child in their modest Glen Burnie home. “I’m just worried about future stuff. The older I get … “
Roberta was nearing 60 and working overtime as a technician at University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore when her family’s lives were forever altered on March 9, 2010.
It was on that night her son, Thomas H. Virts III, 28, lost his temper with his son, Xzavier, then just 6 weeks old. Virts told police he’d been up with his son between 2 a.m. and 7 a.m. He said he tried several things to calm the fussy infant: bouncing the baby and rocking him with a jerking motion, without supporting his head. In the end, Xzavier was bleeding from both sides of his brain, and had abdominal trauma, a liver contusion and brain swelling. Virts fled to Brooklyn Park.
Roberta sat by her grandson’s bedside at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., and prayed. Doctors said Xzavier would rely on a feeding tube. He’d be deaf, blind — a vegetable, Roberta said.
His father is serving a three-year sentence for a probation violation stemming from the case.
Roberta doesn’t believe her son meant to hurt Xzavier.
“I think he got frustrated,” she said. “I think my son did not know how to take care of him right.”
She says there may be a day when her son is back in the child’s life, but it will be a long road.
Xzavier’s mother, Ashlie Crowl, could not be reached for comment. But the Virts family says she has not been part of Xzavier’s life in more than a year, though she lives 384 feet away. As Xzavier fought to recover from injuries doctors at first thought he would not survive, Crowl tried to work out a plea deal for Xzavier’s father. She told detectives she didn’t want a broken baby, Assistant State’s Attorney Pamela Alban said at Virts’ sentencing.
Roberta said that upon Xzavier’s release from the hospital, Crowl took the baby back home.
Two weeks later, the Department of Social Services called Roberta and her husband and asked if they would like custody of their grandson. Without hesitation, the middle-class, middle-aged couple took on the task of raising the now-developmentally disabled child in mid-April 2010.
“We had no crib, no Pampers,” Roberta said. “We had to run out to Burlington (Coat Factory) to get a cradle.”
A spare bedroom was turned into an animal-themed nursery that would later be filled with sock monkeys and stuffed Ravens mascots.
Not long after Xzavier was placed at the Virts’ 1 1/2-story home on Chester Circle, the seizures began. Doctors were able to control them with medication, but to this day Xzavier still suffers “little ones” through the night.
Xzavier’s grandfather, Thomas Virts Jr., a maintenance supervisor, is on call 24-7. The child’s 23-year-old uncle, Justin Virts, lives at home and also helps out, taking his nephew to and from school and picking up Ravens and Orioles stuffed animals for him.
“I’m the father figure in his life,” he said.
As medical bills piled up, Roberta was forced to cut down her work hours.
But Xzavier would want for nothing. Roberta said she has given everything within the family’s means to give her grandson the best.
“She doesn’t want him to do without because he’s not OK,” said Xzavier’s aunt, Kelley Virts.
Roberta feels she owes it to Xzavier in some way, after everything he has been through. Over the years, the toys in Xzavier’s nursery have changed from baby animals to big boy airplanes. Soon the room will be transformed again into a sports-themed bedroom, at the urging of his uncle. Xzavier wears Air Jordan high-tops, which Roberta proudly pointed out.
“He’s going to have nice shoes,” she said, insistently.
The family takes Xzavier camping at Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. They take him swimming in the backyard pool. It turns out that Xzavier actually loves being in the sun.
They also proved to doctors that Xzavier could hear. He loves when his family reads to him. He loves listening to cartoons, such as “SpongeBob SquarePants.” And despite what doctors said, Xzavier is able to eat normal food. His favorite: crab cakes.
“He laughs, cries. He makes sounds,” Roberta said, looking down at her grandson.
Xzavier’s uncle hopes to one day take him to a baseball or football game.
But despite his accomplishments, the child with dirty blond hair and sparkling brown eyes is a shell of what might have been. Most boys his age are imitating their favorite superhero, demanding a second cookie, testing their luck with parents. Xzavier cannot hold his head up. He can pick up a toy for only a few seconds. He stares straight ahead while conversations take place around him.
In February, he started preschool at Marley Glen School in Glen Burnie, where he works with occupational and physical therapists.
Doctors won’t know the long-term effects of the injuries until Xzavier is of school age.
He’s growing long and skinny, as 3-year-olds do, outgrowing his grandmother’s lap. Soon he will also outgrow his stroller and rely on a wheelchair to get around. Roberta is already preparing. She has gotten estimates for a wheelchair ramp to get Xzavier in and out of the home. It will cost between $4,000 and $7,000. Eventually, the family will need a van.
The family has sold candy bars to try to raise money. They sold $180 worth, but only half was profit. Roberta put the $90 toward Xzavier’s bed.
In December, the family paid $5,000 in medical bills.
Roberta was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine checkup the month before. She began chemotherapy in January and has just completed her last “big” chemo session. She’ll now have one maintenance chemotherapy session a month. She wears a blond wig to cover her lost hair. Roberta’s eyes well up.
“The hardest part is when I’m sick,” she said.
The chemotherapy has made her weak and ill. But she still insists on putting Xzavier before herself.
“I’ll be suffering, but I’ll still have him,” she said, patting the boy, who is now asleep.
“I’d do it again in a minute.”
Information from: The Capital of Annapolis, Md., http://capitalgazette.com
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)