Joey Wittkugle will turn 62 on June 29 — doctors said he would never live past 11.
Doctors offered Wittkugle’s mother, Bobbi, a grim prognosis when he was born in the late 1950s. “The doctor came in and never asked my name and said to me, ‘You have to put him away. He’ll never talk. He’ll never walk. He’ll never know who you are. He will live to the age of 11 and that will be the end of it.’” she told local Ohio NBC affiliate Channel 8.
Joey was born with Down syndrome, at a time when Bobbi said “nobody knew about them, and they kept them in the house. I mean, you did not have them out walking or one thing or another.” Approximately 6,000 American children are born with Down syndrome every year, or roughly one in 700. When Joey was born, the average life expectancy for such a child was just ten years.
She credited her priest for helping her to see how special her son was, despite the monumental limitations of his birth. “Bobbi, you were gifted by God, you were chosen by God to have this child. You can’t turn your back on him,” she remembers the clergyman telling her. “When he leaves you, then you will know the purpose of him coming to you.”
But against all odds Wittkugle did not leave, and Bobbi found purpose and understanding during the course of his life. “I want people to start understanding, when you see one of our children, don’t turn your back at them like they did years ago. They are human, they are special from God and please learn to love them as much as they love you,” she said.
On June 28, the day before his 62nd birthday, Wittkugle’s family will hold a very special celebration of his life — complete with a parade on the 5th Street Plaza in Struthers, Ohio, to which everyone is invited. The purpose of the public celebration is simple, Bobbi said, “To let people know that these children, these adults are just as human as you and I. They have feelings like we do. They give extra special love”