Until a few months ago, 4-year-old Zane Emken of Fate had spent his life being nourished through a feeding tube. However, when COVID-19 restrictions resulted in more family time and support, his parents managed to get him started swallowing food.
Zane, who was born with DiGeorge (or 22q11.2) syndrome, was a survivor from the beginning, as his twin brother was stillborn, but his lowered immune system, heart problems, breathing difficulties and being underweight led to his family’s decision to have a tracheostomy performed on him and to feed him through a tube.
“Honestly, we were focusing on just getting him breathing first,” Zane’s mother, Kate, told the Royse City Herald-Banner. “A year and a half ago, I thought he would never eat.”
Like a lot of people who receive nourishment through a feeding tube, Zane mostly used feeding tube formula. At age 3, his breathing had improved enough that his trach was removed and his parents, after consulting extensively with nutritionists, transitioned him to eat pureed meals, by Real Food Blends, through his feeding tube.
“Within his first week on Real Food Blends, he had fewer stomach issues, he started standing up and walking, and he went from being able to say just one word, ‘bye,’ to learning five words within a week,” Kate said. “His quality of life improved drastically.”
Then, in 2020, when COVID-19 hit, Zane’s family – with the guidance of nutritionists with Lemond Nutrition in Rockwall – took the opportunity to teach him how to mouth feed.
“After eating real food through his tube, he started showing interest in eating by mouth, so we spent about a month slowly teaching him how to swallow the same Real Food Blends he had been eating through his tube,” Kate said. “If he doesn’t get enough calories through mouth feeding, we still give him some through his tube, though.
“Now, every time I see him eat, I just want to cry, because I had just accepted that he would never be able to eat normally … but kids with tubes are just as deserving of eating real food as anyone else,” she continued.
“I don’t think we would’ve come this far if not for COVID-19, and being able to stay home and focus on getting him eating.”
As his vocabulary continues to grow and he builds his strength, Zane is getting ready to start kindergarten next year.