COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Colton Zuspan learned that he was required to complete a senior project before graduating high school, his thoughts immediately went to the place where he spent the first 100 days of his life.
Colton, the son of Fred and Sonia Zuspan of West Columbia, was born at 24 weeks. He weighed in at only one pound, five-and-a-half ounces, and was 11 ½ inches long, the same length as a Mattel Barbie doll.
Being born premature, or as a “preemie,” left Colton with low vision and cerebral palsy. His goal during the senior project at Wahama High School was to research premature birth, its causes, and its effects.
“I wanted to know what that had to do with me,” he stated.
And part of that research included a trip back to those first days at the Ohio State University Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Colton did not make the trip empty handed though.
While at the local Dollar General store, Colton got the idea to take the current babies in the NICU each a “tag blanket.” A tag blanket is a small, soft blanket with looped pieces of ribbon sewn all around the borders. The ribbons are a variety of colors, patterns and textures to create visual and tactile appeal.
Colton’s mom was all for the idea, but with a cost of $4 each, and a total of 49 beds in the NICU, it was going to be an expensive venture. The pair came home, got on the popular website Pinterest, and found they could make the blankets for a fraction of the cost.
Sonia, who has long made decorated cakes from her home, and Colton decided to bake cream-filled cupcakes to raise the money for the materials to make the blankets. They planned to make four dozen, sell them at $10 per dozen, and make $40 total.
Once advertised on Facebook, however, the pair quickly had requests for 16 dozen. The extra money allowed Colton to purchase a gift bag for each blanket, and to make a homemade card for each baby that included his photo and a short story of why he was giving the special gifts.
Colton measured and cut the material for the blankets, cut the ribbons and pinned them, while Sonia did the sewing. They were not quite prepared for what was ahead though.
On delivery day, Colton and his parents headed to Columbus. When they arrived with their gifts, they were surprised to find a nurse still working there who had tended to Colton in the NICU all those years ago. She remembered Colton, and the family held a mini reunion. Other workers in the unit joined them for a look through a scrapbook that Sonia had made and kept during those first 100 days.
The return to the NICU brought back a myriad of emotions for Colton’s parents. They spent a lot of time with Colton at the hospital, but also had Colton’s siblings, Ezra and Kelsey, at home who needed their attention.
The scrapbook includes photos of Colton with his dad’s wedding band around his arm like a bangle bracelet, and his unusually chubby cheeks when he was on steroids to strengthen his lungs. But it also holds the fears, frustrations, joys and finally triumphs a mother feels, in her own words.
Colton has faced many challenges in his life. He will never be able to drive a car, he has to hold reading materials just inches from his face to see them, and he has a number of fine motor issues. All those, however, have not kept the young man from living an active life.
Colton has been a member of the Wahama track team since the seventh grade. He runs both the 100-meter and 200-meter sprint. And though he is most generally in last place, he never quits, always finishing the race.
As a member of 4-H, he shows lambs at the Mason County Fair. Starting out 10 years ago as a competitor in the “special” lamb division, he had a partner to assist him. For the past two years, Colton has shown his animal in the regular lamb category. He enjoys 4-H camp, and has won the “William Tell Award” in archery and has competed in skeet shooting, despite his poor vision.
He recently met the qualifications needed for a pair of Ocutech bioptic glasses, which takes his vision from the 20/100 vision that regular glasses provides, to 20/40. The new glasses have a magnifier on top that allows Colton to focus in on what he wants to see. According to Colton, they are particularly helpful when trying to read something on a blackboard at school.
Although Colton is unsure about his future plans after high school, he has a number of interests. He is a self-proclaimed “gamer,” enjoying his Nintendo 3DS the most. He likes Percy Jackson movies and books, is a history and trivia buff, and loves all things Disney.
In fact, a senior trip to Disney World with his parents is Colton’s next adventure. Even though he was there at age eight, this will be his first trip in an airplane. Colton said he has a love for roller coasters and is definitely looking forward to taking everything in at the Florida amusement park in April.