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‘You Can Do Anything On Wheels’

Griffin LaFountain came into this world foot first, kicking out 14 weeks before his due date. After a complicated delivery via emergency cesarean section, he spent the first four and a half months of his life in the Intensive Care Nursery at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Now, 18 years later, Griffin will be the assistant coach for Team West in the NH All-Star Football Game benefitting Dartmouth Health Children’s and CHaD on Friday, June 28. 

“If it wasn’t for them, Griffin wouldn’t be here today,” Griffin’s mother, Norma LaFountain, says of the CHaD team. “They saved my family.” 

Griffin LaFountain, assistant coach for Team West in the 2024 NH All-Star Football Game benefitting Dartmouth Health Children's and the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

When Griffin was born, he had a brain bleed and he wasn’t breathing. The infant was immediately put on life support, and the doctors told Norma that he might not make it. “It was a rollercoaster ride” in the ICN, she recalls. “I was always wondering, every single day, is this the day he’s going to pass?” 

During the months in the ICN, Griffin was resuscitated twice and had numerous blood transfusions. He had jaundice, issues with his lungs, and doctors were monitoring his heart. Norma would be woken up in the middle of the night to give consent for urgent procedures, and she spent every moment possible with newborn Griffin in the ICN, CHaD’s neonatal intensive care unit.  

As a new mother, Norma wanted to hold her child, but in the first month, Griffin was too ill. So the nurse on his case, Lauren Begin, RN, devised other ways for the new family to bond: The nurse had Norma record her voice and read him stories, which she would play for Griffin throughout the day whether Norma was there or not. The nurse also helped bring some normalcy to the months the LaFountains spent in the ICN, making holiday cards with Griffin’s little footprints and handprints on them, and putting together a poster about the baby and his likes and dislikes.  

“She was absolutely incredible,” Norma says. “All the nurses were incredible. I don’t know how they do that job,” she says, adding that she watched them care deeply for other babies, some of whom did not make it. “The nurses are the ones that do everything day in and day out. If I wasn’t there, they were rocking him and feeding him.” 

After months of being “on edge,” as Norma describes it, Griffin was finally able to survive without all the machinery. The ICN staff weaned the four-month-old off life support, and he was discharged to go home with his mother.  

Recently, Norma and Griffin returned to the ICN on a tour as part of the NH All-Star Football program. Many years had gone by since the mother and son had last seen the nurse that cared for them during their first months as a family, but when Norma walked into the ICN, she saw “who I thought was her.” Indeed, it was Begin, the clinical nurse who had cared for Griffin in the ICN. And, 18 years later, the nurse still remembered feeding and rocking newborn Griffin. 

“It was just so wonderful to see Griffin all grown up and succeeding in his life. And for his mother not only to remember Griffin's primary nurse that cared for him but to remember my name,” Begin says. “I have been a neonatal intensive care nurse for 38 years, and to know you have truly touched the life of another human, is the biggest reward I can receive from this career.”  

Begin says she still often recounts stories of caring for Griffin in the ICN. “One of my fondest (and funniest) memories,” she says, “was a day that I was bottle feeding him. I had stopped and placed him high on my chest to burp him, when he promptly burped and then vomited down my scrub top and into my bra! At that moment, I said; ‘you are so lucky I love you little man.’”  

The All-Star Football tour of the ICN certainly wasn’t Griffin and Norma’s first time back at CHaD. When he was about a year old, Griffin was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and has since undergone numerous major surgeries and specialty care—all overseen by CHaD pediatrician Steven Chapman, MD, who serves as medical director of the Boyle Community Pediatrics Program.  

The pediatrician says it is a “gift” that Griffin has let him into his life. “I’m always happy to see him on my schedule because I get to find out how things are going and hear the latest story from him,” Dr. Chapman says. He has witnessed how Griffin approaches the adversity of cerebral palsy with a sense of humor and strength, not seeing his diagnosis as a barrier to a full life. “It’s that spirit that the world is still out there for you, and just because there is something you can’t do the same way that others do it, doesn’t mean you can’t participate and you can’t have as rich an experience as other kids.”  

During one appointment when Griffin was in elementary school, Dr. Chapman recalls talking together about getting around school in a wheelchair. “I remember he looked at me and he said, ‘Dr. Chapman, you can do anything on wheels.’”  

That conversation prompted the pair to run the CHaD HERO 5K together that year, with Dr. Chapman pushing Griffin until the last quarter mile, when, unsurprisingly, Griffin decided to cross the finish line under his own power, to huge cheers from the crowd. 

Griffin LaFountain and CHaD pediatrician Steven Chapman, MD, participated in the 2014 CHaD HERO 5K together.
Griffin LaFountain and CHaD pediatrician Steven Chapman, MD, participated in the CHaD HERO 5K event together in 2014.

Griffin’s phrase “you can do anything on wheels” has stayed with Dr. Chapman, who has since had a knee replacement that has kept him from running the CHaD HERO. Now, with Griffin’s words in the back of his mind, the pediatrician organizes a 50-mile bike ride instead.  

Sports play a central role in Griffin’s life. As a senior at Newport Middle High School, Griffin has been the team manager for the varsity football team since his junior year, helping to coach the players. “He keeps everybody on their toes,” Norma says. Now, he’s bringing his coaching skills to the NH All-Star Football Game, an event which brings together New Hampshire’s best graduating high school football players to raise awareness and funds for Dartmouth Health Children’s and CHaD. Griffin will take to the field on June 28 at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH as the assistant coach for Team West. 

“I get to give back to the people and help support the hospital that supported me for many years,” Griffin says. “Usually when you’re in a hospital, you’re not at the best point in your life, whether it’s physically or mentally, usually something isn’t fully right, so it’s good to have the support system to help you out with whatever you need.” 

Support has come in many forms for Griffin when he’s been in the hospital, from caring doctors and nurses to staff providing video games, arts and crafts, and bringing therapy dogs for him to interact with before and after surgeries. “It helped me get my mind off what I was going through,” he recalls. 

In the fall, Griffin plans to go to New England College and study sports management. His football career will continue there, too. New England College is launching a new football program, and the head coach as already accepted Griffin onto the team.  

To learn more about the NH East-West All-Star Football Game or our other Dartmouth Health Children's community fundraising events, please contact Andrea Denhart at or at 603-646-5912.

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Eva Botkin-Kowacki

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