WOODBURY – Richie Alfes is just like any other 8-year-old boy. Richie loves Legos, basketball, and wrestling, and he doesn’t particularly care for lettuce in his grilled chicken wrap.
Richie also loves to read – the Bethlehem Elementary School third-grader read 120 books this summer during Woodbury Public Library’s summer reading program.
And Richie knows his birthday is August 14, 2009. But, as Richie says, he doesn’t remember being born.
By sitting down and talking with Richie, one would never know that the day that he was born was also the day his mother, Thea Alfes, was told to say good-bye.
Born 10 weeks early after an emergency c-section, at just 3 lbs., 10 oz., doctors at St. Mary’s in Waterbury did not think Richie would survive.
“When I could feel my legs again, I was wheeled in to see Richie for the first time,” Thea Alfes said. “When I went in to see him, it was to say good-bye. I couldn’t see his face. My husband [Richard Alfes, a retired Captain with the Naugatuck Fire Department] was there and took as many pictures as possible.”
But Richie was a fighter. He fought for three weeks in St. Mary’s neonatal intensive care unit. About a month later, Thea was able to hold Richie, and he came home on September 6.
And Richie has fought ever since. He was developmentally behind other third graders, but benefitted from the state’s Zero to Three program, and Region 14’s special education program – first at Mitchell Elementary School, and then at Bethlehem. Physical therapists also worked with Richie to straighten out his scoliosis: His 14-degree curvature is now just 4 degrees.
Thea had been an EMT in New Haven, and worked a lot during her pregnancy – which she said seemed completely different from her prior pregnancies with her daughter, Emily Grudzien, 21, and son, Steve Grudzien, 17. Both Emily and Steve say they don’t remember their mom being pregnant with Richie that well.
But it became a life-changing experience for Thea and her family. Thea stopped working so she could care for Richie. Thea also says she tends to baby Riche a lot more than she did Emily and Steve, and the older siblings say they are fine with that.
But the life-changing didn’t end there: The experience also got Thea and her family to get involved with the March of Dimes. In 2012, they served as the ambassador family for the Greater Waterbury area. They’ve been a mainstay at the annual March for Babies walk – the next of which will be held May 6 at Quassy Amusement Park.
Steve Grudzein has taken over as the family’s captain of the March for Babies walk, and this will be his third year in charge. Steve says he wanted to take on the responsibility so there would be less pressure on the rest of the family.
When Steve took over as captain, he needed to provide a quote to the March of Dimes. He came up with the following: “Richard, you’re the one that can do anything, you’re stronger than all of us.”
Steve said he came up with that because when he got tired and felt he couldn’t finish a workout, he remembered what his brother had gone through.
“I was fighting to get stronger, he was fighting for his life,” Steve said. “In his own way, he showed us how strong he was.”
The next event the Alfes family is hosting comes this Friday, Feb. 2, a “Tip-A-Hero, Be-A-Hero” dinner at Outback Steakhouse in Southington. Police officers and firefighters from the Greater Waterbury and Hartford areas will volunteer their time as servers from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and their tips will be donated directly to the March of Dimes.
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