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Once tiny as a bird and fighting for his life, Colorado Springs teen earns his black belt

By: Garrison Wells, The Gazette
October 19, 2013 Updated: October 20, 2013 at 9:25 am
Caption +
Grant Thompson, 15, who spent two and a half years in the Intensive Care Unit after he was born prematurely, lines up his attack before breaking four boards during his black belt test in Taekwondo Saturday, October 19, 2013. Michael Ciaglo, The Gazette

When Grant Thompson was born 15 years ago, he was tiny as a bird.

Life for the premature baby was dicey.

Death hovered.

"He just fell out totally intact in the (amniotic) sac," said Fran Thompson, Grant's mother. "There he was. He looked like a little bird and he fit in my hand."

For the first two and half years of his life, Grant lived a sterile existence with tubes poking out of his body. His home was the intensive care unit at Memorial Hospital.

A tube attached to a ventilator helped him breathe. He was fed through a feeding tube.

"We had to go one day at a time, sometimes one minute at a time," Fran said. "He was coding (near death) a lot. There were so many times we thought he wasn't going to make it."

Saturday morning at Colorado Springs City Auditorium, the bird flew.

Along with other 31 other students of the U.S. Taekwondo Center, Grant earned his black belt.

It was, he said, "Amazing." He never felt he would make it.

The auditorium was filled with students and family. The students worked on their kicks and punches, self-defense techniques, joint locks and throws.

Grant, his hair tousled, dressed in his red uniform, didn't miss a beat.

His smile lit the auditorium.

Mom didn't miss a beat, either. She also earned her black belt Saturday.

"We hung in there together," Fran said. "I stayed where he was."

They each also won special awards for their journeys, Fran for service and Grant for his indomitable spirit.

"He never gave up," Fran said.

When he was born in 1997, Grant weighed a pound and a half.

Altogether, he had nine surgeries during his hospital stay.

When he came home, he still needed the ventilator. And times were still rough, even though nurses were at their home around the clock.

"So he still had the trache," she said. "One day we were at home, his trache plugged and my 11-year-old daughter (Christin) stayed totally calm. Grant was purple. He was not doing well and my daughter pulled that trache out and put another in. She saved his life."

Her husband Mark's office, "was an ICU, basically," Fran said. "Sometimes something would happen and a nurse couldn't make it, so we stayed up all night."

At the age of 6, Grant was taken off the ventilator. He still needed oxygen. But not being tied to the ventilator gave him some much needed freedom.

Nurses continued to help until Grant was about 10 and during that time, he was treated "like he was normal," Fran said.

The family would take him to the zoo, he would attend church, go to pumpkin patch festivals.

"He would be there, right in the middle of it," Fran said.

At the age of 8, Grant started learning to play the drums.

He also played baseball on summer YMCA leagues in Monument, wearing his oxygen backpack.

"His lungs were scarred, they call it honeycomb scarring," Fran said.

Taekwondo was the next big step

"They were incredible with him," Fran said. "Master Jay Lee would call him Superman and encourage him. Grant loves Superman, so he would call him Superman in class."

Grant, Lee said, "really didn't have limitations. He did everything, just as everybody else. I think that's one of the inspiring things about Grant, he doesn't have a lot of fear and he tackles things with a smile on his face."

For instance, part of his test for black belt test included a three-mile run, 200 sit-ups and 200 push-ups.

He made it through all three.

"Grant finished the entire thing," Fran said. "Everybody had tears in their eyes."

Along the way, faith has helped,.

For more than 14 years, he's been in the daily morning prayers of 88-year-old Louis Moesta.

"I knew to pray for somebody and he is the one who came to mind," Moesta said. "From the time I heard about his physical problems, I have faithfully prayed for him."

"I cannot tell you how much prayer has gone into this little boy," Fran said.

Life is still not easy. Grant is still on a liquid diet and has trouble enunciating.

But today he's a seventh grader in home school who gets up every day at about 5 a.m. to start his studies.

He wants to go to college, but hasn't figured out where yet.

His lungs are healing and he continues to grow stronger.

And so the journey continues.

Grant plans to earn his second-degree black belt and has joined the school's leadership program.

He still likes to play baseball and is turning into a heck of a drummer, Fran said.

Grant, she said, "is a miracle. He's here."

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