Irving’s Noah Smith is an Internet sensation. At 18 months old, he is changing lives worldwide. His blog has received millions of hits, and his Facebook page has a network of more than 16,000 families. Noah has Down syndrome and, with the help of his dad Rick and mom Abbie, he’s on a mission to show the world that it’s OK.
Rick Smith created the blog noahsdad.com three months after Noah was born. The Smiths were shocked when Abbie’s OB/GYN uttered the phrase “I’m so sorry” and offered Abbie antidepressants following Noah’s diagnosis. They began to see there was a stigma surrounding Down syndrome. Rick’s research revealed that 92 percent of children known to have Down syndrome prenatally are, in fact, aborted. The self-described tech geek decided to put his skills to use and create a blog showcasing Noah’s life through brief videos.
“I wanted to give people a window into what life was like,” Rick says. “I think there is a lot of bad, outdated and inaccurate information out there – stereotypes that are incorrect. He’s not sick. We’re not crying in a corner. We have a pretty normal life. I just wanted people to see that.”
Posts on noahsdad.com feature one-minute videos of Noah as he tries new things and reaches new milestones. Many show Rick and Abbie sharing experiences with Noah that are typical of any child. The Valley Ranch couple hopes these videos will serve as a point of reference for new or expectant parents who are unsure about a future with a child who has Down syndrome.
“I think the medical community can paint a really bleak picture of what a child with Down syndrome’s life will be like,” Abbie says. “But it helps when they can see actual footage and be encouraged.”
Rick, a recent Dallas Theological Seminary graduate and self-described “idea shaper,” was excited about creating the blog. He thought it would serve as a valuable resource for family members wanting to keep up with Noah, but their posts began to pull in an increasing number of outside views every day. People from all over the world began to reach out to the Smiths. In January, Rick published a post commenting on a boy with Down syndrome who was featured in a Target ad. Rick woke up to 18 million hits.
The Smiths use their new platform to share the message that kids with Down syndrome are worthy of life. While Rick’s posts focus on the more emotional aspects of parenthood, Abbie, an ER pediatrician at Children’s Medical Center, provides factual information to help other parents raising kids with Down syndrome.
Abbie reflects on hearing Noah’s diagnosis from the unique perspective of an M.D. “In that instant I knew every risk factor,” she says. “I knew about his heart. I knew about his thyroid. I knew about leukemia. I knew about all of those things all at once. I remember clutching my chest and being like, ‘Is his heart OK?’ and not being able to get those words out.”
Abbie says she’s a different doctor than she was before Noah’s birth, and that Noah has taught her more than she ever learned in residency. But she admits she doesn’t know it all – not even close. She and Rick continue to learn from other parents in their growing online community.
“We are not Down syndrome experts,” Rick says. “We are just two parents who love their kid and love people and love God. We get excited anytime we can do that.”
In addition to their careers, Rick and Abbie spend countless unpaid hours responding to upwards of 50 comments a day from readers and engaging parents through their blog and Facebook page. “We are so into these families,” Rick says. “We know them. We love them. We pray for them. We Skype them. We go to Florida to meet with them. We do dinner at our house once a month and have 40 people in this little house right here. We are so connected to people.”
The Smiths treasure the relationships they’ve built and hope to create a global community where parents can connect and encourage one another. “It’s cool because someone will be like, ‘Oh, we’re about to have heart surgery, does anyone have any feedback?’ and there are parents that will flock to that post and reassure the family,” Abbie says. “It’s nice for a parent to know what that’s going to look like and to have someone to talk to.”
Rick and Abbie show no signs of slowing down. They look forward to growing their family and sharing Noah’s story for years to come. Rick says he’d like it if Noah someday took over the blog and learned to post videos. The Smiths will continue to use the Internet as a tool for Down syndrome advocacy and empowerment of families. They hope they can live by example and encourage other families to share their own stories.
“You never know when it’s going to be you at Starbucks posting something you thought your grandparents were going to be the only ones to read,” Rick says. “You never know who’s going to click on your link, and through your story … you could change the world.”