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Back Roads: Celebrating a special 16th birthday

Andrea LaVigne, center, of rural Wabasha admires her son's 16th birthday cake, made by Sara Jablonske of Hastings, at left. At right is Sue LaVigne of Prior Lake, at right, who is Thomas's aunt. Jablonske made the special cake for the non-profit Icing Smiles.

WABASHA — "The cake's here, Thomas, the cake's here, Thomas, the cake's here."

Thomas LaVigne's excited sisters and relatives alerted him that his special 16th birthday cake had arrived at the giant machine shed of their rural Wabasha house, where the big birthday bash was Sunday. Sara Jablonske, of Miss Saras Cakery in Hastings, proudly carried the cake decorated with a frog motif to a table. Nearby, another table was piled with food for scores of people expected to celebrate the special day.

Thomas didn't respond.


He can't respond.

He could see the cake only if it was a few feet way, and he couldn't eat a piece, or any solid food. Thomas was born with a dizzying number of problems that go under the general category of autonomic nerve disorder, said Andrea LaVigne, his mother.

His combination of medical problems makes him unique, said his dad, Mark LaVigne.

The problems are so much a part of the family that his sister Morgan's first word wasn't "mommy" but "IV."

Thomas requires 24-hour attention, a ventilator to breathe, a feeding tube and constant watching of his body temperature because he can't regulate it on his own and he sometimes snaps and scratches himself though they don't know why. At best, he can tilt his head right or left to indicate yes or no. And "he can spin the spinner when we play board games," said his sister, Megan, 13.

Despite his problems, Thomas' family still celebrated his birthday because he's part of the family. His parents and sisters make sure of it.

"It's tough, but we decided we are going to give him the best life he can possibly have," his dad said. "That boy survives on love from his family."

They bring him into his sister's Wabasha-Kellogg classrooms so the girls' friends would see him and understand him.


"He brings joy," Megan said. He plays those board games, "and he laughs at us when we get in trouble."

Morgan said that "he brings happiness because we're all together."

When Thomas has a medical problem, such as another broken leg (his bones are very weak), "he fights, we fight for him," Mark said.

They try to make his life as normal as they can, watching TV with him, playing games, and on Sunday, going all out for his 16th birthday. Miss Sara's Cakery provided the cake through the nonprofit Icing Smiles program.

"Our goal is to create a custom cake for the ill child, or their sibling, that provides a temporary escape from worry and creates a positive memory during a difficult time," the group's Web page states. "Memories have magical powers. Long after the cake is gone, the memories linger — memories of the kindness of a stranger or the art of the design, of the sweet smells of a special treat, of the smiles and laughs, of a normal childhood experience so often stolen from these children."

The theme for Thomas' cake was frogs. That took a bit of explaining, but it seems frogs liked the family's hot tub last summer, so much so that they once found five in there are at one time. From that came a ditty that counted down bumping off the unwanted frogs.

"It's like a wedding cake, it's huge," Andrea said. "It allows the family one less thing to worry about."

It also helped the family make a 16th birthday even a bit more special.


"I want it to be a celebration," she said.

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