Luke Sims is 27 days old and 3-0 as a Bulldog.
He still has a way to go before his original due date of Jan. 4, yet with a little football and a lot of faith, his victories in a fourth-floor room at St. Mary’s Hospital have been easy to count for his parents, Matt and Wendy.
Luke was born at 8:13 a.m. on Oct. 23, and shortly after Matt and Wendy began placing a dog bone sticker — the same ones Georgia players are given for their helmets — on a calendar for each day he survived and using each Georgia football game as a milestone.
Florida, New Mexico State and Auburn — with each Georgia victory, Luke grew bigger and stronger than the week before.
Through tired eyes, the family watched as the days, stickers and football victories multiplied, and before long, Luke was doing well enough that they transitioned from counting the days he lived to counting down the days until Matt and Wendy may take him home — hopefully in time for Christmas, but more likely in early January.
Luke’s parents are Georgia graduates and, of course, passionate fans with a deep love for sports. Matt is a 2001 Winder-Barrow graduate, a former Mercer baseball player and now a teacher at the Barrow Performance Learning Center and a varsity baseball pitching coach at his alma mater. Wendy teaches at Commerce High, where she was a two-time cheerleading state champion and a 2003 graduate, and was a member of Georgia broadcaster Larry Munson’s movie group while a student at Georgia.
It was a few days after Matt and Wendy’s trip to the Oct. 15 Georgia-Vanderbilt football game in Nashville, Tenn., that Wendy had her blood pressure checked and, after finding it was abnormally high, went to the hospital. She and Matt had plans to attend the Georgia-Florida game in Jacksonville, Fla., less than two weeks later, but never made the trip.
“We thought we were just going to go back home that night,” Matt said. “The doctors said, ‘No, you might have a baby tonight.’ ”
Four days later, Luke was delivered by cesarean section and his parents have been tied to the hospital since.
Wendy arrives most days by 1 p.m. and, as she says, the teacher in her comes out as she reads books aloud to Luke. Matt arrives by 4 p.m., and for two or three hours each day the new parents are allowed to take their son out of the incubator and hold him in their arms.
For that fleeting time, they like the hospital to feel like home.
Luke is swaddled in a Georgia blanket and dons a tiny knit cap with the emblematic “G.” There’s the sticker-covered calendar, a poster signed by Georgia players who visited the hospital three days before his birth, and a whiteboard updated each day by a nurse who writes Luke’s weight and age and sketches a cartoon bulldog.
“We wanted that sense of security knowing that this is our little room in the hospital,” Wendy said. “And just being able to make it feel comfortable for us and comfortable for Luke and being able to put a little bit of our personality into it while we’re here has really helped us a lot.”
Along the way, the ring of support grew from family and friends and nurses and doctors to coworkers, school districts and even the Georgia Athletic Association. When Georgia football coach Mark Richt heard about Luke, he wrote a letter to Matt and Wendy offering support and prayers for their family.
“It’s tough when you have to pack up at the end of the night and go home knowing he’s still there, when you planned on leaving the hospital with a beautiful baby boy,” Wendy said. “But it’s that kind of support that has helped us get through the tough times.”
Meanwhile, Luke’s development has been steady. He was born able to breath unfiltered air on his own, which surprised doctors, and is now regulating his own body temperature. He was born small, even for a premature baby, but that too turned out to be a blessing because he was so entangled in the umbilical cord that growing any larger may have proven deadly. On Friday, he had three bottles in the same day for the first time and increased his feeding amount from 18 to 27 milliliters.
As they watch Luke continue to grow, Matt and Wendy find new inspiration nearly every day. They once looked up Luke’s birth weight — 1 pound, 15 ounces — in the Bible and found a comforting pair of verses in Luke 1:14-15: “And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.”
“We thought that was a really neat coincidence,” Matt said. “It showed us God was watching Luke and had a plan for him.”
Another day, it was some words from Richt that Matt found particularly poignant.
“Quite frankly, I love the game of football. I love my job. I love Georgia. But what I do is not who I am,” Richt said to reporters on Nov. 8 when asked how he weathered early season criticism. “I’ve said that before. I think sometimes if we become what we do and then things aren’t going just right, then all of a sudden our entire world falls apart. I’ve got a faith in my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, and I know that God loves me and is going to take care of me. I just truly believe that. When all the games are done and all the life is lived, I know where I’ll be for eternity.
“Not to say I don’t care about what happens in this world because that’s not true. Colossians 3:23 says, ‘Whatever you do, do your work heartily as unto the Lord,’ so that’s what I was doing on a daily basis. I was doing my job as best I could and trying to do it for his glory and try not to worry about anything else. That’s kind of how I navigated that time and there will be more tough times I’m sure. That’s the way life is.”
Those words came at a meaningful time for the family, Matt said.
“It really meant a lot to us to hear him say that,” Matt said. “He said it’s OK if you don’t win a game because that’s not the person he is. Hearing things like that really puts it in perspective for you. There are more important things.”
And in a room filled with Georgia memorabilia, athletics have served more than a few fitting metaphors for the struggles and triumphs Luke and his parents have gone through in 27 days.
“Sports kind of puts you in a position to learn about adversity,” Matt said. “I’m a baseball coach, and I get to see adversity all the time. The same way a team is defined, you’re always going to be defined by how you respond to that. We have definitely seen some adversity the last few weeks and everything and everybody around us has helped us realize what’s important and gotten us through it.”