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When Gabriel was 5 years old, he was like many kids his age—he loved baseball, swimming, riding his bike, and reading books. One evening in 2014 a sudden and seemingly innocuous fever changed all of that in the blink of an eye.

Gabriel was feeling under the weather, so his mother, Tonya, ran him a bath to help soothe his aches and pains. She got him situated in the family’s main bathroom, just like she’d do any other day. Since he had bathed alone previously, Tonya felt comfortable leaving Gabe unattended for a short amount of time. But when Tonya returned to the bath minutes later, she found a horrific scene—her son was submerged in the water and had stopped breathing.

Gabriel working hard in a “SpiderCage” which allows him to perform balance and strengthening exercises.

It is believed that Gabriel had suffered a febrile seizure, which caused him to lose consciousness and slip below the waterline. His near-drowning left him with an anoxic brain injury that turned young Gabe into a nonverbal, immobile, and physically dependent child. His parents were crushed, but they channeled their pain into an intense focus on his recovery.

Gabriel finally came home after months in the hospital. His seemingly insurmountable care needs quickly took their toll on the family, including his four older siblings. 

Tonya says Gabe’s condition changed not only his life, but the lives of his brothers—Joshua, Isaiah, Timothy, and Simon. This once incredibly active family has had to make many sacrifices to support Gabe’s quality of life—and it has been challenging. “His brothers’ whole lives have changed,” Tonya told us. “Gabe was 5, and his brothers’ friends loved him; he was just one of the boys! He was so much older than 5 from having older brothers, [but] that all changed.

“I actually had Gabe when my oldest was 16 and I had said it was one of the best things because it made my teens realize life didn’t revolve around them. And I guess this also makes them realize that,” Tonya shared with her trademark glint of positive-spin humor.

It’s been a tough road for the Scheels, and their small hometown of Walla Walla, Washington, doesn’t offer much in the way of appropriate therapy for a child with Gabriel’s needs. But his parents and four older brothers rallied in support of the youngest member of their family. Over time—through the generous help of their small community, various nonprofits, and his tenacious parents—Gabriel’s home was filled with some of the best and most expensive in-home therapy equipment available today. From his very own hyperbaric chamber machine to a specialized Lite Gait machine, Gabe had access to some truly incredible therapy devices. 

As Gabe grew and his therapy needs expanded, his bedroom/therapy room became crowded and overstuffed. Plus the outdated shag carpeting made maneuvering the heavy therapy equipment a massive burden to anyone working with Gabe.

When Tonya and Michael Scheel wrote to us about their son, Holton’s Heroes was excited to help. It took a lot of planning and discussing to figure out exactly what we’d be able to do, but ultimately we found a wonderful flooring company called Conner’s Flooring and Design that allowed us to do much more than we ever thought we could. They worked within our nonprofit’s budget and did incredible work.

Due in large part to our generous donors, Holton’s Heroes was able to give Gabriel and his family brand-new floors throughout their first level, which includes his therapy room, his bathroom, and the kitchen. You can check out before and after pictures below.

We wish Gabe and his incredibly inspiring family nothing but the best as they move forward through recovery. If you want to follow Gabriel’s journey and cheer him on, you can do so on Facebook here.


We wouldn’t be able to do this without the help of Holton’s Heroes, who go above and beyond to make sure our son is healthy!
— Tonya, Gabriel's Mom

We are Holton's Heroes, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to helping pediatric brain injury survivors get the tools they need to succeed in recovery. 

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