Love of music helps blind St. Francis teen navigate life
He holds the record as the smallest baby boy to survive at Rapid City Regional Hospital. At one pound, six ounces, no one expected much from Freddy Iyotte.
13 years later, Freddy is not only surviving, he's thriving. Thanks to a fighting spirit, an innate sense of humor and a shared love of music.
He entered the world four months early.
"It was like a nightmare. My water broke out of the blue," said Maria Iyotte, "The doctor said they will do a cesarean and then I will not see him, because he will not live."
But Freddy clung to life in an incubator for months, his parents Maria and Richard right by his side.
"I'll never forget one day he just stopped breathing. But and then he came out of it and he looked at his papa's face and he smiled at him like it was a joke," said Maria.
Freddy left the hospital after four months, but not unscathed. Scar tissue from early laser surgeries crowded his retinas, plunging his young life into darkness. But growing up in a musical household, Freddy found his own light. At one and a half, he played his first piano.
"He never banged around like other kids. From the get-go he always used his fingers," said Maria.
Ever since, he's been unstoppable. Today Freddy sings in English, German and Lakota. He has a knack for working out tunes he's only heard once or twice, and has even joined his musical hero - his dad - in the studio. Richard Iyotte is part of the band Arrow Space.
When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Freddy's mind turns back to music, "I'm gonna be backup for Papa."
"He makes songs about everything. Like last year when he was on a visit, he made a song about going to the eye doctor," said Maria.
It was during that visit to a New York specialist, sponsored by The Lions Club, that the Iyotte's received news they'd waited more than a decade to hear.
"The doctor said everything is fine. Just his retinas are no good. So he's the perfect candidate for a retina transplant," said Maria.
Despite his spot on the transplant list, Freddy will have to wait four more years for his shot at restored eyesight. For now, this precocious, affectionate 13-year-old is working hard.
"He participates in P. E. with the kids and when they have the Lakota class and recess and lunch just as much as he can," said teacher Anita Olson, who works with Freddy one-on-one.
He is also getting ready for his next performance - at the St. Francis Indian School Christmas program. Freddy says Christmas is his favorite holiday.
And Freddy's parents are cherishing every milestone, watching the young man their premature baby has become.
"You don't take anything for granted anymore. Because he's special, so you enjoy everything. every little step," said Maria.
Doctors tell the Iyotte's that after his transplant and transition counseling, Freddy will be capable of tasks most people take for granted, like driving a car.
St. Francis Indian School is working to recruit a piano teacher, so Freddy can develop his talent in a gifted music program.