Chelsea Lush was only 20 years old when she became pregnant with her first child. At the mid-pregnancy scan, then, Chelsea and her husband, Curtis, were excited to find out whether they would have a boy or a girl. The ultrasound, however, revealed something disturbing: their baby could shatter like glass. Indeed, doctors thought that the child would never survive the birth. So when Chelsea defied their instructions and went through with the pregnancy, the new arrival amazed everyone.
At 19 weeks pregnant, Chelsea Lush, a now full-time mom from Huntington Beach, California, and her husband, Curtis, went for her mid-pregnancy scan, and doctors told the expectant parents that they would be having a girl. However, there was also something else that the tests revealed.
Indeed, doctors could see from the scan that the baby’s arms and legs were underdeveloped, which they believed was due to achondroplasia – or dwarfism. On closer inspection, too, the doctors saw something far more concerning. In fact, it was so serious that they would subsequently recommend that Chelsea have an abortion.
Doctors could see that the baby’s arms, legs and ribs were broken and that her nasal passage had yet to develop. Even more distressing for Chelsea, however, was that when the nurse pressed gently against the baby’s skull she could see it deform in front of her very eyes.
“Mrs. Lush, there’s something very wrong with your child,” doctors told Chelsea. Specialists later diagnosed the child with Osteogenesis Imperfecta, or OI, a type of brittle-bone disease. The condition is caused by defective DNA and affects around one in 50,000 newborns in the U.S.
Having seen that the baby had multiple fractures in the womb, doctors didn’t believe that the pregnancy would last to full term. And even if it did, they thought it unlikely that the baby would make it through the birth. As a result, they recommended that Chelsea consider having an abortion.
“The specialist recommended or suggested that we could just terminate the pregnancy,” Chelsea explained to Barcroft TV in January 2017. “But it was more than that to us. It was our first child together.” After careful consideration, then, Chelsea and Curtis chose to proceed with the pregnancy.
So on October 26, 2010, the parents welcomed Zoe Lush into the world. She was delivered by cesarean – but her body had already been damaged in the womb. And although her bones were beginning to heal naturally, little Zoe was born with several fractures. Further to that, she had broken her collarbone during the C-section.
Zoe consequently remained in hospital for a week after her birth. She was placed on IV treatment to help the fractures heal and make her bones stronger. Even so, as Chelsea said, “Zoe is very fragile, she literally breaks in the wind.”
Zoe was subsequently diagnosed with Type III OI. Although survival was possible, her body was so fragile that she could potentially fracture ribs merely by breathing too hard. Chelsea and Curtis were faced with a situation in which even the most simple tasks were a danger to their baby girl.
For example, a diaper change required three pairs of hands. “One person to lift her pelvis, one person to slide the diaper in and out and then another person to hold her arms because babies have startle reflex,” Curtis explained. Nonetheless, this basic procedure still posed a danger to Zoe.
Curtis was the person to hold her arms, and because she was so delicate, he gave her just enough room to move around. “She startled into my hand,” Curtis recalled. “Her radius just snapped – it sounded like a broken chicken bone. We had to learn a lot very quickly.”
When Zoe was aged three months, her bones broke so frequently that her parents started splinting the fractures themselves. Furthermore, doctors unaware of how to handle an OI patient would handle her like a healthy child and ultimately end up causing more broken bones.
“Zoe has broken a countless amount of bones,” Curtis explained to the Daily Mail. He and Chelsea kept a record of her breakages to update the clinic every year, but it proved pointless. “We stopped counting at 100, around her first birthday,” he continued. “We knew she would be breaking bones for the rest of her life.”
Aged two and a half, Zoe was also diagnosed with cervical kyphosis, a compression of the spine which could cause a complete collapse. She was consequently placed in a neck brace until the age of six to prevent further damage, and she then had surgery to fuse her spine and correct the damage.
So every single day presents hazards for Zoe and her parents to contend with. For example, if Zoe were to eat anything but soft foods, her teeth would shatter. Indeed, her body is so delicate that loud, shrill noises risk piercing her eardrums. Playing with other kids, too, is dangerous if they aren’t aware of her fragility.
Against the odds, however, Zoe is approaching her seventh birthday. And although it’s unlikely that she’ll grow up to be more than three feet tall and may never leave her wheelchair, she doesn’t allow her limitations to hold her back. Indeed, she has grown into a remarkably happy, bright and outgoing little girl.
“Zoe is a social butterfly with all of the other kids,” Chelsea told the Daily Mail. “She doesn’t notice any differences that they see and she will make friends with everyone that she meets. She is able to do every other thing that other kids are, other than run on their feet, but she can race them just as fast in her wheelchair.”
In July 2016 Zoe had an operation to insert metal rods to strengthen her limbs. As she grows and her muscles strengthen, the chance of fractures decreases. Though she’ll likely spend the rest of her life in pain, she’ll nonetheless face her challenges with a big smile on her face.
“I would not change Zoe and I would never, ever take anything back,” Chelsea told the Mirror in April 2017. “I know it’s hard for her but every human goes through hard things. This is just her case and I think the OI makes her the special and compassionate person that she is.”