December 9, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“I was 16 years old when I had Tracy,” says mom Rene Miller. “I was not only very young, but also going down the wrong path. He is the reason why I turned my life around.”

Around her 26th week of gestation, Rene was hospitalized due to eclampsia, a life-threatening hypertensive disorder of pregnancy. Tracy was removed from the womb in an emergency C-section, only weighing 1lb 7oz and measuring 12 inches long. “The doctors stressed the fact that he wouldn’t survive the first hour,” Rene recalls. But Tracy survived the night. And another. And another. When a week had gone by, the doctors didn’t know what to say, but they knew that his life would be a struggle from that point on.

At 2 mos., Tracy, who weighed about two pounds, underwent surgery for a hernia. Yet again, the doctors didn’t know if he would survive. “I was able to hold him for the first time before he went into the operating room. I prayed for the first time in my life that God would work a miracle for my son.” While Tracy made it through his first surgery, Rene and the doctors had a feeling it wouldn’t be his last.

Next, it was a brain hemorrhage at 3 mos. “[He] received a tube that ran from his head to a jar that drained the fluid building on his brain. The doctors were actually expecting a brain tumor to be found, but instead they just found fluid and a blood clot.”

At around 5 mos., Tracy and Rene were able to go home. “It was right before my 17th birthday,” she remembers. “It was the best present ever.” But then Tracy began vomiting and having difficulty breathing. Even more troubling, he was unable to tolerate Rene’s breast milk, which was helping him gain the very weight and strength he so desperately needed. Back to the hospital they went.

This time, Tracy underwent a fundoplication (a surgery which tightens the esophagus) and received a feeding tube (which fed him and helped him burp for several months after the surgery). And then came the multiple ventriculoperitoneal shunt surgeries to drain the fluid off his brain again.

Shortly after being allowed to go home once more, Tracy was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Rene knew he would be developmentally delayed, but the biggest question in the back of her mind was whether or not her son would ever walk and talk.

Physical, occupational, and speech therapists came to Rene’s home twice a week for a year to work with Tracy, as his weakened immune system made it hard to leave the house. “Tracy proved himself once again though,” Rene adds. “He said ‘Mom’ at 1½ years, and he walked around 3 years with the help of leg braces and a walker. He also potty-trained at 3½ years and started preschool.”

The next decade proved difficult as well, what with Tracy getting meningitis and having seizures because of the damage to his brain. But he kept pushing through, as he had ever since he was a baby.

Today, Tracy Christensen is a 16-year-old student at Blair High School, where Rene says “he blossoms.” He’s involved in the Special Olympics and works at the school office, and he’s also a big brother to an 8-year-old sister, Kaidence, who helps watch out for him.

But it’s Tracy’s smile that helps Rene know her son is truly a hero after everything he’s been through—it “lights up your heart,” she explains.

“Tracy has always inspired me. He saved me,” she says. “He has shown me and given me strength and opened my eyes to the world…He is the most amazing young man, and I don’t just say that because he’s my son.”

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