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Single mom refuses to give up disabled baby with 'low intelligence', nurtures him all the way to Harvard

'I've never dared to apply for Harvard University, but my mom always encouraged me to give it a try,' the grateful son revealed.

Single mom refuses to give up disabled baby with 'low intelligence', nurtures him all the way to Harvard
Representative Cover Image Source: Getty Images/Taiyou Nomachi

Editor's note: This article was originally published on May 22, 2021. It has since been updated.

When Zou Hongyan gave birth to her son at the Jingzhou District Hospital in China's Hubei Province in July 1988, she was told there was no point in raising him. "There is little value in rescuing the baby. He will become mentally disabled or paralyzed. I suggest you give up," a doctor told the new mother about her baby who was born with cerebral palsy. Understandably, Zou was shocked. More so when her husband seemed to agree with the doctor, saying: "We shall give up the baby. He will make our whole life miserable." However, the 25-year-old was determined not to let any harm befall her son, Ding Zheng.



Zou set out on the long journey of rehabilitation training for Ding by herself after divorcing her husband. "Of all the disabilities, I was most afraid that Ding Zheng would be mentally disabled," Zou told Xinhua, reports China Daily. Concerned, she began taking the infant to Hubei Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine to check his intelligence even before he was 100 days old. After continuous treatment and monitoring, the doctors finally put her worries to rest when the boy turned one, assuring her that Ding's intelligence level was normal.



"Nothing was more soothing than the news that my precious boy has normal intelligence," Zou recalled. However, Ding had great difficulties in physical activities due to damaged motor neurons in the cerebellum and couldn't hold things until the age of one. With his mother's constant guidance and support, he learned to stand at the age of two, walk at three, and jump at six. Ding needed massage treatment three times a week which cost about 0.7 U.S. dollars per session, which Zou found difficult to manage with her salary of about 14.5 dollars as a teacher in the 1990s.



Zou held multiple part-time jobs for over a decade to ensure Ding received consistent medical care, crucial to his recovery.  

"I started to treat Ding when he was under one year old and was suffering from severe cerebral palsy. It was because his mother paid special attention to his illness, took him to our hospital for treatment at a very early age, and continued his treatment non-stop for over ten years that he could recover to such a great extent. Early and continuous treatment for cerebral palsy patients is crucial," said Dr. Xiao Daiqi, who worked at the Department of Pediatrics at Hubei Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine.



"Many hypoxic brain damage patients have low intelligence. I think, in Ding Zheng's case, his mother's unwavering support for early and continuous treatment for him played a key role in his recovery," the doctor added.

"My mom has undergone huge hardships to bring me up. When I was young, once we encountered heavy snow when she carried me by bike to the hospital for massage treatment. Suddenly, the bike fell over into the mud. When my mom helped me up, the bike fell down; when she lifted the bike, I fell down. The moment we reached the hospital, both of us were covered with mud," Ding recalled, adding that those at the hospital were moved by Zou's persistence.



"If I took a day off in bad weather, what would happen if Ding or I got sick? Since I chose to rescue him 29 years ago, I tried my best to cure him of the illness," Zou said. "The moments when my child stood up, walked, and called me 'mommy' for the first time are the happiest in my life; it's like receiving a gift from heaven. I feel I'm a lucky mom. I don't want him to feel ashamed about his illness... I ask him to work harder than others and have higher requirements of him." Zou's hard work and perseverance finally paid off when Ding graduated from the College of Environmental Science and Engineering of Peking University went on to study law. In March 2016, Ding was admitted to the Law School of Harvard University after working as a lawyer for a year.



"I've never dared to apply for Harvard University, but my mom always encouraged me to give it a try. Whenever I hesitate, she is always there guiding me," said Ding. "A lot of parents show strong ability and eloquence at work, [but] turn bewildered when it comes to educating children, either spoiling the kids or lacking patience, failing to discuss with their kids in an equal and earnest way. My mom convinces me with arguments and stories when we have different opinions."

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