Jack Gatlin is a miracle baby to his mom and dad and grandparents on Hilton Head Island.
And now as a strapping boy of 10, he will portray one of the most lovable characters of the Christmas season — the club-footed Amahl. He, too, was a miracle child in the one-act opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” to be presented at First Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Dec. 10 and Dec. 11.
Jack came into the world ahead of schedule when his mother’s kidney and liver started shutting down.
He spent his first 28 days in the Neonatology Intensive Care Unit at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.
He arrived weighing 3 pounds 10 ounces, a tiny bundle in a tiny blanket when his mother finally got to hold him.
She said Jack had three different brain bleeds. His heart often stopped beating. And he would routinely quit breathing.
With about 30 weeks of gestation, Jack was by no means the sickest infant in the room of incubators.
But as for his development after going home to Hilton Head still hooked to a heart monitor, all the doctors could say was: “We’ll have to wait and see.”
His mother, Jennifer Gatlin, said, “It was very scary.”
And she says, “He truly is a miracle.”
Jennifer is a nurse and director of the Acute Care Unit at Hilton Head Hospital. Jack’s father, Bruce Gatlin, is a firefighter and emergency medical technician with the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire and Rescue Division. So they knew by the language of the doctors and nurses that the lives of mother and baby hung in the balance.
Jennifer’s mother, Angie Greenfield of Hilton Head, said her daughter had only hours to live when they got her to MUSC.
“The whole church was praying,” she said this week, standing outside the choir room door, where Jack was rehearsing with the adults.
Jack always showed spunk, his mother said. He was called a rock star in the room of incubators when he’d wait for a nurse to turn from her task before he’d pull out a new tube stuck in him.
Now he’s the tallest child in his fifth-grade class at Hilton Head Island School for the Creative Arts. He’s in classes for academically gifted children. And he’s been singing and acting since second grade, calling former teacher Angelo Cerniglia, “Mister C,” a big influence on a young life.
“Amahl and the Night Visitors” is a 50-minute opera written for television in 1951 by Gian Carlo Menotti, who in 1977 became founder of the Spoleto Festival in Charleston. “Amahl” became his his most beloved work.
Jack has the key role, surrounded by local stars in this free production by the music ministry at First Presbyterian.
Soprano Laura Floyd plays his mother, and the Magi are played by Chalmers Gordon, K.C. Boatright Jr. and Kyle Hancock. John Kellom is the page, there is a choir of about 25, and the dancers come from John and Karena-Brock Carlyle’s Hilton Head Dance School. Ross Magoulas of Charleston is the stage director and Rusty Floyd is music director.
Show times are 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, and 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at the church, 540 William Hilton Parkway.
“It’s a beautiful story,” Rusty Floyd said. “People will be so touched by the story of Amahl. For Jack, it will be an experience he’ll never forget.”
Jennifer Gatlin said the role is special, like the day they brought Jack home from MUSC and a rainbow appeared over the Charles E. Fraser Bridge on the Cross Island Parkway.
“It’s a reminder of how thankful,” she said, choking up, “how very thankful we are to have been able to see this miracle in our lives.”
“Amahl and the Night Visitors”
Shows: 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, and 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 11, at First Presbyterian Church, 540 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head Island.
Presented by: The music ministry of First Presbyterian Church of Hilton Head, headed by Rusty Floyd.