Youssef Dib has always been a fighter – born into one of Australia’s most prominent boxing families, he is the brother of world champion Billy Dib and an undefeated professional boxer in his own right.
But Youssef says that his son, three-year-old Jibreel, is the toughest member of the family.
‘Jibby’, as he’s affectionately called, is a fixture at Cerebral Palsy Alliance’s Penshurst therapy centre, where he has been receiving a full suite of therapy support since being diagnosed with cerebral palsy at eight months of age. This week, Youssef joined popular parenting podcast, Dr Golly and the Experts, to share his powerful and emotional journey with paediatrician Dr Daniel Golshevsky.
Jibby was born extremely pre-term at 25 weeks’ gestation, weighing just 838 grams. During his first weeks in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), doctors at one point told Youssef and wife Nicole that Jibby had less than five hours to live.
After four-and-a-half months in the NICU, Jibby eventually overcame the odds, but Youssef says their challenges had only just begun. Following a brain bleed and multiple high-risk surgeries, Jibby was categorised at extremely high risk for CP and medical staff at the Royal Hospital for Women referred Jibby to Cerebral Palsy Alliance. Youssef told Dr Golly that he had to battle with his own perspectives on disability and masculinity before coming to terms with Jibby’s diagnosis.
“I went through a lot of denial when it came to Jibby’s diagnosis. I’m not proud to say it, but during that time Nicole had accepted it, I sort of let her deal with it. Thankfully, she knew I needed time to accept it, so she took it on her shoulders,” Youssef said.
“We were put on to Cerebral Palsy Alliance by the hospital, and they basically gave us free treatment during the time we were waiting for the NDIS. They pay for that with fundraising money and that’s something we are forever grateful for,” said Youssef, who spoke about the vital importance of early intervention. Click here to listen to the full podcast episode, or search for ‘Dr Golly and the Experts’ in your podcast platform of choice.
“It was important for Jibby to get that support at that early age, they’re an amazing alliance who basically provide everything you need for a child with CP and also other disabilities. Through CPA we had occupational therapy, physio, speech therapy, and slowly, slowly – it doesn’t happen overnight – but you start to notice that Jibby was developing in ways we didn’t even know were possible.”
Dr Golly said, from a clinical perspective, he was also astounded by Jibby’s development: “when I first came across Jibby’s story and history – born at 25 weeks, 800 grams – I thought to myself, I know where this is heading, I’ve seen these kids with cerebral palsy before – GMFCS V, non-verbal… And then when I see Jibby, I didn’t believe my eyes, he’s walking – it’s quite extraordinary.”
When asked about how Jibby has gone from early intervention to now being a thriving young boy, Youssef said that Jibby – who doctors said would never walk – is now running and jumping.
“He’ll chase his big sister with all his might, and you can obviously see that he’s walking in a particular manner, but slowly, slowly, things are happening. He’s carrying things while he’s walking. Wow, he just took that step without holding the rail, just these little milestone moments, but they aren’t something that happens overnight. There is a village of people helping.”
Youssef says that, as Jibby grows up, there’s no set path for how his cerebral palsy will continue to affect him – but that the resilience and faith the family have means that the unknown is no longer something that scares him:
“With his development, we’re also very in the dark knowing how far or how much progress Jibreel can have, but that’s okay. Every single moment, every single thing is exciting… we really celebrate every little milestone, and those little moments make you so grateful for everything. It doesn’t matter if this is as far his progress goes, we’re going to love him just as much.”
“Turns out it wasn’t Jibreel who needed to take the first steps, it was us.”