PEMBROKE, Va – Buddy Wood captured hearts around the world with his 65th birthday photoshoot that has since gone viral, shared tens of thousands of times around the world. Born with Down syndrome, doctors told his parents he wouldn’t live to see his first birthday. In a photoshoot by photographer Brittany Cook of Giles County, Va., he has beyond proved them wrong.
Joining him in some of those pictures is another Giles County toddler who’s also changing misconceptions about Down syndrome. Sutton Ballard, age 2, is an adorable boy who was also born with Down syndrome. Like other toddlers, he loves to laugh and play. Despite his young age, he already knows some sign language and loves to play the piano. Perhaps the most charming feature you’ll notice when you see him is his beautiful smile.
“When he smiles, it's just pure happiness,” said mom Katie.
He's the apple of his parents Caleb and Katie Ballard’s eye. Though he's a child with Down syndrome, they describe him with one word.
"Perfect,” they both said in unison.
The Pembroke couple was overjoyed when Katie got pregnant, but admit they were thrown when they found out their son would be born with Down syndrome. The young couple in their early 20s were first given only negative facts.
“It was really scary. Most of the information given online and by doctors was blunt and very negative,” Katie said. "You are told basically all the things your child will never do."
But, what doctors didn't tell them is how beautiful their life would be.
"They didn't tell me that he would be standing in his bed in the morning with the biggest smile on his face so excited to see me and Caleb,” Katie said. Caleb was reassuring through the entire process, and said the couple was so relieved and overjoyed when he was born. “We don’t treat him any different from any other child,” Caleb said.
"He's a little cuddle bug too,” Caleb said. Both parents said Sutton hits every other milestone that any other child would. He may be slower to reach them, but that only allows them to savor each moment that much more.
For the Ballards, that extra chromosome is only more to love. Both are now dedicating time to raise awareness and tell others about the joy that comes with having a child with Down syndrome.
“You'll love your baby. It's your baby, you’re going to live a great life,” Katie said.
That's part of why being part of Buddy’s photoshoot meant so much.
Like Sutton, Buddy defied the odds.
“It was heart-warming,” Caleb said. “They had a connection."
Now dedicated to changing hearts and minds, the Ballards want to spread a message of love and acceptance.
“They are people too. They have feelings just like everybody else,” Katie said. “They want to be included and accepted. We want to show the world, he is more alike than different."
The couple has since had a second child, a little girl who is only 8 weeks old. The Ballards say they couldn’t imagine life without their two beautiful children.
Like Buddy, Sutton is also making waves around the world, inspiring inclusion and awareness. His picture was shown on the jumbotron in New York City last week, and he’s gained quite a following on his Instagram page managed by Katie.