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'No one with more determination': 4-year-old St. Louis County girl defies the odds

Ryder weighed less than two pounds at birth and the doctor didn't think she would make it as an infant

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. — Webster dictionary defines the word 'miracle' as a very amazing or usual event, thing, or achievement. There is a little girl in south St Louis County who could be the human definition of the word. 

Ryder is a lover and she is a fighter.  

“There’s no one stronger,” said her adoptive mom Melissa Ferrell Shelton. Ryder has been fighting since she was born premature and weighing just 1 pound, 1 ounce.  “Literally took my breath away. And I just started crying and thought, how is she even alive?” said Ferrell Shelton. “One of the doctors in the NICU told me, 'I didn’t think she would make it."

But Ferrell Shelton refused to leave Ryder in the hospital fighting alone. She decided to adopt her as an infant and complete her family.  She had already adopted Ryder’s two older sisters a few years prior.  

“We wouldn’t really be a full family if she wasn’t a part of the family,” said older sister Halley Kay. 

“There wasn’t an option because they’re sisters and so we were just going to do it,” said Ferrell Shelton.

The adoption was four years ago. Since that day, the family has gone through some tough times. Ryder used to have seizures and she’s had to endure 10 brain surgeries. “Every time you get terrified you get more strength because you make it through,” Ferrell Shelton said.

Little Ryder has pushed through. She is a survivor and shows no signs of slowing down. “No one with more determination,” Ferrell Shelton said. She told 5 On Your Sign that Ryder is up to walking 5 to 7 seconds now before she falls. But she always gets back up and keeps going.

Ryder also receives 14 hours of therapy each week. She is engaging more and speaking more words. “She’s come so far from when she was littler,” said big sister Skylar.

Ferrell Shelton calls Ryder a ‘miracle’ and a ‘blessing to the world’. She also believes that her daughter has a big purpose on earth. “A greater purpose than I can even describe,” she said. 

She says Ryder makes you want to be a better person.  “It is a heart and soul kind of better."

November is National Adoption Month. If you are considering adopting a child or becoming a foster parent, click here for more information from a local agency.