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Raymond Dunn, ‘Gerber Boy,’ Dead at 20

January 27, 1995

NEW YORK (AP) _ For all his 20 years, Raymond Dunn Jr. couldn’t walk or talk _ in fact, he could barely breathe. But Raymond could do one thing.

He could make people care.

His mother and father dedicated their lives to him. Strangers offered their help and their love. And a big corporation gave him sustenance.

Raymond was known as the ``Gerber Boy″ because just for him, the company resumed production of a discontinued infant formula _ the only food to which the profoundly retarded young man was not allergic.

He died last week in a hospital near his home in the Catskills, ending a life no less valued for all its troubles.

``He fought right up to the end. He wanted so much to stay with us,″ his mother, Carol Dunn, said Thursday. ``But he suffered all his life, especially at the end. He racked his little body, just trying to breathe.″

When he died, the Dunns still had a year’s supply of a brownish liquid called MBF (for meat-based formula). Gerber stopped making it in 1985, but employee volunteers retooled five years later after Raymond’s doctors said he would die without it.

``Gerber says `Babies are our business,′ but Raymond’s their business, too,″ said Carol Dunn.

Raymond was born with a broken skull and a brain that had been deprived of oxygen; he was not supposed to live a year. His twisted, cramped body never grew beyond 38 pounds and four feet. He suffered up to two dozen seizures a day, and slept two or three hours a night.

His asthma made each breath a struggle; phlegm plugs repeatedly hospitalized him and threatened to kill him. He moved only with help, saw only shadows. His expression ranged from a painful grimace to a slight smile. His only sounds were snorts, gurgles, wheezes and an occasional burp.

His biggest problem was his allergy to virtually all food, save MBF. By 1988 Mrs. Dunn had hunted down every can she could find and Gerber had exhausted its backlog. The mother begged Gerber to make more.

Finally, in 1990, the company agreed. Research division volunteers put their own projects on hold, hauled out old equipment and devoted several thousand square feet and several days of production time and space to Raymond’s MBF. They even had to go to Washington to get USDA approval for the label.

The batch was meant to last two years. When Raymond finished it, Gerber made more; when he died, he still had a year’s supply.

On Thursday, a Gerber nutritionist seemed surprised when asked why she and her colleagues devoted such effort to a market of one.

``It seemed like the right thing to do,″ said Dr. Sandra Bartholmey.

The story of the corporate heart stirred many others. Mrs. Dunn and her husband, Raymond Sr., a car salesman, got sacks of mail. A Sunday school class sent $28. A dealer in rare baseball cards offered Raymond any one he wanted. A man in Skokie, Ill., informally adopted Raymond as his grandson.

What was most remarkable about Raymond, though, was not his diet but his care.

His mother and a platoon of helpers caressed him almost constantly. They fed him seven times daily and brushed his teeth after each feeding. They spent hours rolling him atop a big medicine ball in an attempt to strengthen his neck enough so he could hold his head up.

Raymond slept in his parents’ bed, often between them. He received about a dozen different medications, some several times a day. His mother’s calendar had no luncheon dates or hairdresser’s appointments; it was devoted entirely to charting the times and dosages of one asthma remedy.

Raymond’s death was as hard as his life. Starting Jan. 6, his fragile system slowly gave out. His temperature dropped to 84, then soared above 100. He couldn’t keep down food or medicine, and was so congested he had to consume tanks of oxygen. His body swelled as fluids backed up inside.

On the evening of Jan. 17, with his parents and care givers gathered around his bed, Raymond died.

Now, his mother said, she will devote the energy she once put into his care to raise money to build the Raymond Dunn Rainbow House, a facility for ``medically fragile, technology dependent children.″

``Families in this situation need help,″ she said. ``You have no idea of what it’s like before you get there.″

When their child was born the Dunns were urged to institutionalize him. They were told that keeping him would burn them out, ruin their marriage.

But the mother said they had no regrets: ``I’m proud he was my son. I’m grateful God gave me that honor. I wouldn’t have traded it.″

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