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Against all odds: Air Force family overcomes adversity

family photo

The Giles family smiles for a group photo Sept. 2, 2019 in California. Matthew Giles, a test flight boom operator with the Air Force Test Center at Edwards Air Force Base, and his wife, Christine, showcase resiliency through the unique challenges that their family faces. (Courtesy photo)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

It was just another day in the desert for Tech. Sgt. Matthew Giles in 2012. He was deployed with the Air Mobility Command as a boom operator and had just completed his shift for the day. He texted his wife, Christine, who was 32 weeks pregnant with their first child and thousands of miles away. To Matthew’s surprise, his wife was still awake despite the time difference.

“Everything seemed to be on track up until that point,” said Matthew.

The initial news of his wife’s pregnancy had excited him, but he was unsure what to expect. He had worked with leadership to choose a timeframe to deploy during the pregnancy that he hoped would be uneventful.

“From every book we read, everything was going great,” said Matthew. “We were meeting all these milestones; I got to feel the baby kick.”

Christine’s untimely response startled Matthew. She was up unusually late due to bladder issues. Matthew urged her to contact her doctor to ensure everything was still going smoothly with the pregnancy and then he sat to wait for her return call. Christine’s decision to check in with her doctor paid off – she was going into labor.

“She went to the doctor and the next thing we knew the baby was on its way,” said Matthew. “There was nothing I could do short of being on the phone for moral support.”

Matthew’s leadership scrambled to secure him a flight home. Aircrew members flew two hours over their duty day to ensure he arrived home to meet his daughter just 72 hours after her birth.

“We had a really great squadron family and they all came together to help, which was amazing,” said Christine.

Once Matthew returned home he learned that his first child, Alexis, had been transferred to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after her pre-mature birth.

“She was in one of the incubators with all the wires and it was so surreal,” said Matthew. “We weren’t well-versed at the time for NICUs. We understood there could be some issues, but it was so unsure.”

As the Giles braced for the worst, they began to feel the fear of the unknown.

“There was one doctor that came in and finally broke down what exactly was going on and what the likely outcomes were going to be,” said Matthew. “It was like a wall hit.”

The Giles were presented with a spectrum of possibilities of outcomes for their tiny newborn daughter. They finally were able to determine she had suffered a brain hemorrhage and was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy (CP). The Giles were faced with a future of uncertainties for the health and wellbeing of their first-born child.

“You go from thinking that you’re going to have this newborn and things are going to be all great,” said Matthew. “You’ll lose some sleep, but you’ll watch them grow up and you have all these aspirations for them. To watch that get sucked away within a couple weeks of her being born was tough, very tough.”

“We were told she’s not going to make it,” said Christine. “It was super scary. But she was eventually discharged and put into early intervention, then we got into outpatient therapy and we’ve just gone from there.”

Alexis, now seven years old, defied most of the doctors’ initial odds. She enjoys being mobile in her wheelchair and playing with her younger sister, Emma. She has dreams of being a teacher one day.

“She’s a little Brainiac,” said Matthew. “From where she should have been at, to where she is now, truly amazes me.”

“She gets frustrated with herself sometimes, but she’s super determined,” said Christine. “She’s definitely got a personality.”

As the Giles waded through the challenges of raising a daughter with CP, they found comfort in the community of the Air Force. They discovered the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP), which allowed them to learn about resources that the military offers for families with special needs children. Christine even helped improve the EFMP at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. She helped others connect with valuable information to help accommodate their family’s needs.

“A lot of families came together,” said Christine. “The biggest thing is knowing the right questions to ask because it can be hard to figure that out at first.”

Although the Giles family faces a unique set of trials, their family bond is just like any other.

“We’re just like everybody else, we just have different challenges,” said Christine. “We’re doing what we can do for our kids just like any other family would do for theirs.”

The Air Force allows the Giles family to have peace of mind when it comes to providing care for Alexis. Military health care and the special bonds shared with other service members provide the Giles with support to overcome adversity on the home front.

“It’s important to know that you’re not alone and to find that support system,” said Christine.