TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Elijah Walling had a huge smile on his face as he walked around the living room Sept. 1.
The 8-year-old started walking on his own Aug. 14 — about a week before his birthday and first day of school.
"It's all pretty new and exciting," said his mother, Sarah Walling-Gifford.
Elijah, who was born three months premature, has cerebral palsy. His family wasn't sure if he'd ever walk.
Elijah — a third-grader at Sawtooth Elementary School — is a little wobbly on his feet, but gains stability as he goes, Walling-Gifford said.
Now that he's walking, he'll be fitted for leg braces on a regular basis as he continues to grow.
As grandmother Teri Bentley watched him walking, she described him as a "charmer."
"He's the happiest kid you'll ever meet."
Elijah was born premature at 26 weeks, weighing 2 pounds, 5 ounces. That night, he was taken by helicopter to St. Luke's Children's Hospital in Boise.
He spent 99 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. On the second day, he suffered a severe brain bleed.
In that situation, doctors often talk to families about the possible outcome, Walling-Gifford said, such as being on life support.
She was told Elijah wouldn't sit on his own or smile — "terrible things you wouldn't want to hear about your baby."
"It was a hard time, for sure," she said. "I just felt like I needed to give him a chance to fight for himself."
Elijah has been through 17 surgeries — mostly, brain surgeries at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City. A shunt was paced in his brain in 2009.
When he was six months old, he developed a seizure disorder. At the worst point, he was having 42 seizures per day.
"He had been on every medication and it just wasn't working," Walling-Gifford said.
About four years ago, Elijah went through a surgery and the family was told it may reduce seizures by 20 percent. But since then, he hasn't had any.
It made it so much easier to retain information, Walling-Gifford said. "He started making a lot more progress after that."
Elijah is non-verbal, but uses some sign language, she said. He has weakness on the right side of his body.
He goes to physical therapy weekly at Primary Therapy Source in Twin Falls, and has also undergone speech and occupational therapy.
Elijah loves moving around, Walling-Gifford said. He still has a wheelchair he uses to ride the school bus to Sawtooth Elementary.
His physical therapist ordered a walker, which Elijah will transition to using over the next couple of months.
It has been a long, hard road, Walling-Gifford said, but Elijah is "a happy kid" who's good-natured.
She said she's thankful for her network of support, including a neurologist in Boise who advocated for Elijah in the NICU.
He still has delays and struggles, Walling-Gifford said, but they're striving for quality of life. "We're just lucky to have him."
Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com