One-year-old Jace Gabriel loves to run around and is very energetic, just like every other baby.
Unlike most babies his age, however, he wears a helmet around his head, used to correct the shape of his head which is flattened on the back due to his sleeping form.
In part, Jace can thank his baby sitter and close family friend, junior Miranda Seal, for his new helmet. Seal started an online donation for Jace after learning about his need for a helmet.
His mother, Megan Gabriel, a math teacher at Denton High School, said the helmet has helped significantly.
“It is called a cranial band, and he has to wear it for 20 weeks,” Gabriel said. “He’s only had it for two months and his head is completely different.”
Jace was around 4 months old when Gabriel noticed the shape of her son’s head was unusual.
“Before he got his helmet, I put a hat on him and it fit everywhere except in the back,” Gabriel said. “There was just a huge hole on that side [where his head flattened].”
Jace has to wear the helmet daily in order to correct the shape of his head.
“He has to wear a helmet 23 hours a day, and he can only take it off for bath time in order for his hair to dry,” Gabriel said. “After, it has to go back on. He has to sleep in it every night.”
Gabriel attributes the flattening of Jace’s head to his sleeping form. Before receiving the cranial band, Jace frequently slept on his back with his hands behind his head.
“He learned to roll over really early, so any time I put him on his back or stomach, he’d roll over onto his back in the same position,” Gabriel said. “Now, with the helmet, after a few weeks of wearing the helmet, he’ll sleep on his stomach, he’ll sleep on both sides. Before, he was always sleeping in the exact same way and he’d always maneuver himself into that position. I want to say he is hard-headed but I don’t mean his head [is hard], but I mean he’s stubborn.”
Gabriel said that the cranial band is not just for correcting a physical imperfection. Without treatment, the shape of Jace’s head could cause potential problems for him in the future.
“A lot of people seem to think that that’s strictly cosmetic,” Gabriel said. “But with the way his head was shaped, even if he wanted to, say, play football when he got older, helmets wouldn’t fit over his head. That even goes with like your dental work, your jaw not being aligned correctly. It was medically necessary.”
This whole ordeal has come at a cost — approximately $6,000. However, Gabriel agrees that buying the helmet will be worth it in the long run.
“The helmet itself is $6,000 and because my husband is in the military, we have an agreement with the helmet place that they would give us a discount,” Gabriel said. “You want to provide the best for your children, but sometimes finances get in the way of that and you can’t do anything about it.”
The medical expenses have slightly alleviated since one of Gabriel’s students started an online donation website advocating Jace’s situation. Jace’s donation page raised approximately $450, which went toward Jace’s helmet.
“One of my students who is near and dear to my heart, Miranda Seal, started that for me,” Gabriel said. “She knows me and my family very well; I’ve taught her since she was in eighth grade. She knows that I’m a budgeter and that wasn’t something that I could budget for. Especially since when [Jace] was born, he was put into NICU for a week, and I’m still paying that hospital bill. It was thousands and thousands of dollars for him to be hooked up to those machines. She started that and raised a bunch of money to help toward the helmet and it was very sweet. Very thoughtful.”
Seal started the donation after wanting to help as much as she can and seeing a lot of people display interest in Jace’s cause.
“Mrs. Gabriel and I are really close,” Seal said. “I’ve known her for a long time, and I know that from her being a teacher and her husband being in the military, they weren’t going to be able to pay for all of it themselves. I wanted to help in any way I could, and a lot of people on Facebook were asking, ‘How can we help?’ So I thought maybe that was something we could do, and we did.”
Seal was thrilled with the donations the webpage helped raise.
“It was a lot more than I expected to raise,” she said. “I didn’t really expect it to do a whole lot, [although] I wanted it to. I’m really glad it turned out so well because every little bit counted. The fundraiser is still going on. People can still donate.”
With the help of the helmet, Jace can now move more freely and his mother can worry a little less, especially since soon after getting his helmet, Jace started walking.
“He has fallen numerous times and I swear that helmet has saved his life on multiple occasions,” Gabriel said. “It protects him from the hard falls of a newly walking little guy.”
Emily Fu is a senior at Denton High School and a participant in the Denton Record-Chronicle’s “Speak Out Loud” program for student journalists.