Traveling bear brightens Merced boy's day

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comSeptember 25, 2012 

Jacoby Ortiz, a 2-year-old Merced resident who has a rare health condition, had a special visitor from Michigan last week.

It was a traveling Teddy bear, named Eaton, that shares the story of a 1-year-old boy who suffers from the same condition as Jacoby and other children -- a birth defect involving the esophagus and trachea.

Eaton visits children across the country who are struggling with esophageal atresia with tracheoesophageal fistula. After making his stop in Michigan, Eaton continued his travels -- arriving in Merced on Thursday.

"We waited months for him," Jacoby's mother, Vanessa Ruiz said. "We were super excited when we found out we were going to get him."

Eaton is with Traveling Awareness Bears, a nonprofit in Missouri with several bears that visit children with different conditions. Each bear travels with a scrapbook-style journal, and every child is able to add a page in it.

The bears visit children and their families to provide comfort and spread awareness about each condition, Ruiz said.

"It gives us a sense that there's other people out there," she said. "There's always hope. Now we know there's other families."

The congenital disorder that Jacoby has affects one in 3,000 to 5,000 births, according to a journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Infants are born without a connection between the esophagus and the stomach, or with an abnormal one.

The visit to Merced was short, but Jacoby got to play with Eaton and read to him. On Tuesday, Eaton departed to Mountlake Terrace, Wash., where he will visit another family.

Ruiz is interested in connecting with other families in Merced who may have a child with the condition. She said it's nice to have support from other people going through a similar experience.

She said it's important to increase awareness about her son's condition, because not too many people know about it, though it can happen to anyone.

There's no known cause for the disorder.

When Ruiz was pregnant, her doctor detected the condition in her son. He had his first surgery when he was 2 days old, connecting his esophagus to his stomach so he could eat.

About every six months, depending on how fast he grows, Jacoby needs to be taken to Children's Hospital Central California to get his esophagus dilated so he can continue eating as he grows and his body changes, Ruiz said.

"He was able to eat his first solid foods this year," she said. "Sandwiches are his favorite."

Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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