He was put through trauma that no child should ever have to go through, but you wouldn't know it from one look at Raymond "Ray-Ray" Hinton's smiling face.
In June 2014, when he was just 15 months old, he was subjected to a brutal beating at the hands of Lamar James Crump, a close and trusted friend of his mother, Bekah Sabin.
Ray-Ray had to undergo emergency surgery to alleviate the pressure on his brain and have a shunt placed in his skull. Other injuries included a laceration to his liver and bruising on his mouth and buttocks.
Since the incident Ray-Ray has undergone two more brain surgeries, but his latest operation, just last week, should be his last. That's because after more than two years of recovery and heartache for his mother and older sister, Angelic, the now 4-year-old is nearly at the end of a long road to health.
Sabin, a 28-year-old project manager from St. Paul, contacted GoMN to update us on his recovery because she feels that so much of the coverage of child abuse cases focuses on the incident, and not the aftermath.
"You just see so much bad stuff in the news about child abuse, but people need to know that sometimes there is life after this stuff," she says. "It can be something inspirational."
"You don’t let this take over your life. The big story [of what happened] is all people will talk about but no one sees the happy child here today. He is a superhero."
Ray-Ray's recovery is as remarkable as it is inspirational, with doctors warning Rebekah after his first surgery that his ability to walk, talk and read might be impaired as he grew older.
But there have been few if any signs of neurological damage, with Ray-Ray ahead of the curve as far as his development goes.
"He is smart. He know how to work my phone better than I do, he knows his ABCs and 123s. I've even had to put a lock on our bedroom because he wakes up wanting to go to the kitchen and cook me breakfast," his mother says.
His recovery will soon be complete
That's not to say the past few years haven't been difficult for his mom.
There were the after effects of the surgery to deal with, mainly headaches. And sometimes he would suffer nightmares that left him in emotional distress.
And having a soft spot in his skull meant that for the first few years of his life, Ray-Ray has had to wear a helmet while his mother followed him around everywhere.
"He has been able to play with other kids, but I’m always there," she says. "I haven’t been able to give him the leeway and space a normal child would get."
The surgery he had at Children's Hospital in Minneapolis last Tuesday saw a piece of a thick part of his skull shaved off.
It was placed over the soft spot left behind when the original piece of skull was replaced, eight months after being taken out during the emergency surgery to alleviate the pressure on his brain.
In 3-6 months, his skull should be fully serving its primary function of protecting Ray-Ray's brain, meaning he'll finally be able to join in with sports.
"Just not football," Sabin said.
I forgave for me, not for him
Crump is partway through a 208-month prison sentence for his attack on Ray-Ray, with Sabin describing him as a close, trusted friend who would occasionally look after her son.
He wanted more from their relationship than Sabin was willing to give, she said, and in the end he decided to take it out on one of the two people she loves most in the world.
But recognizing she had to get on with life rather than stay angry, she decided to forgive him.
"No mother wants to forgive the person who did this to their child, but I had to try to move past it," she says. "There would be days when my son was crying and I would be so angry, not at my son but at why someone would do something like this.
"I didn't forgive him for him, I forgave him for me."
Ray-Ray meanwhile shows little sign of psychological trauma nor serious pain. In fact following his most recent surgery he declined stronger painkillers and has been recovering using only Tylenol.
"After the brain surgery he's been walking around as if nothing's happened," she said, adding: "It's beautiful how he doesn't let anything bother him, nothing can get in his way. ... He brightens up the room."