Every day, caring for baby Owen is a challenge, but to his mother and grandparents, it's better than visiting his grave site.
Owen Carduff's brain was significantly damaged when he was 4 months old, the result of being shaken by his father at his Rock Hill home. Doctors said Owen "would basically be a vegetable."
Owen could not move, eat or drink. Tests showed damage to most of his brain. His family agreed to end life-support efforts, moving him to a Rock Hill hospice.
Instead of declining, Owen improved, making a sucking motion with his mouth, signaling his hunger. Doctors and his family decided to move him back to Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte for further care.
A year later, Owen is living at home with his family, which has relocated to Aiken. He can laugh, he's cuddly, and he can hold things in his hands, maternal grandmother Charlotte Williams said.
"Every day we have with Owen is a blessing," she said. "We believe God does miracles. He's already performed miracles with Owen."
"All of the daily struggles are worth it," she said, "as opposed to visiting a grave site."
Owen, now 16 months old, goes to therapy three times a week and to countless doctor appointments.
While one cannot rule out any type of improvement, every doctor the 16th Circuit Solicitor's Office has talked to said chances for improvement are poor, Assistant Solicitor Erin Joyner said.
Doctors say it's likely that Owen might never walk, talk or eat on his own. He has difficulty holding himself up. He still has a feeding tube. When that's removed, Owen will likely never be able to feed himself.
Although doctors characterize Owen's condition upgrades as moderate, his grandparents say continued improvements are up to God.
"It's up to God whether he'll ever talk or walk," grandfather Larry Williams said. "It's already a miracle that he's alive."
Owen communicates with his family, the way parents know what their baby is saying, Charlotte Williams said.
"He says 'ga' instead to mean Kayla (Owen's mother). She keeps telling him 'Momma.' He knows our voice. He reacts to us. We take that as something promising."
When Owen's ventilator was removed last January, he was expected to get exhausted and die, his family said.
Owen started taking droplets of water and then a bottle. That improvement led family and doctors to move him from hospice to the hospital.
Dr. Amy Robbins, Owen's attending physician at hospice, said her best medical explanation for Owen's improvement is that babies' brains are incredible and resilient.
This was the second time in Owen's short life he had been diagnosed with a subdural hematoma. The month before, he was taken to the hospital with similar symptoms.
No one was charged in that incident, but it might have added to the severity of Owen's condition now, Joyner said.
"Each brain injury becomes progressively worse," she said. "The first incident created possibility the second was worse."
Owen's father, 19-year-old Michael Carduff, was sentenced to eight years in jail last week for shaking Owen.
Charlotte and Larry Williams said they don't think Carduff is a bad person but wish he had made a better decision on Jan. 11, 2009.
"He had a choice to walk away, to drop him off at our home a block away, to go to a neighbor for help, to hold him and rock him to sleep gently," she said. "He had a choice."
The Williams hope others will learn from Carduff's mistakes and become educated on the responsibilities of raising and child and how to handle a child who continues to cry.