Richard Engel has been open about his son battle with Rett syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that leads to severe physical and cognitive impairments

By Jen Juneau
April 01, 2020 03:42 PM
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Credit: Lauren Fleishman

As the novel coronavirus continues to impact families around the world, Richard Engel is sending a bit of extra love to those with special-needs children.

The NBC News chief correspondent, 46, posted a photograph of his 4½-year-old son Henry Thomas to Twitter on Monday, sharing that he was “Sending out special love from Henry (feeling great) to everyone, especially all the special needs kids and adults who are more vulnerable, and their wonderful caregivers, giving so much more with help, therapy and medical care now all under strain.”

Engel and his wife Mary have been open over the years about Henry’s battle with Rett syndrome, a rare genetic neurological disorder that leads to severe physical and cognitive impairments and, as of now, has no cure. The little boy was diagnosed with the disorder in 2017.

“We have gained a lot of perspective since Henry has come along,” the On Assignment with Richard Engel star told PEOPLE following the birth of his younger son Theodore, now 7 months.

He also told PEOPLE that it will be “difficult” to watch baby Theo pass Henry with certain developmental milestones: “We know why there is this differential. And it’s going to be hard to watch Theo pass his older brother in terms of capabilities. That’s going to be very difficult for us to see. To see a 1-month-old very soon overcoming his almost-4-year-old brother … that’s going to be tough.”

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The author and journalist previously told PEOPLE that Henry “is probably not going to walk, probably not going to speak, probably not going to have any mental capacity beyond the level of a 2-year-old” as a result of his condition.

And while watching Theo mature differently than his big brother will be “a bitter pill to swallow” for the couple, “We know other special-needs families are in worse situations,” Engel said in September, noting, “Henry has major issues, but he’s better off than some with this disorder.”

But still, “Even to listen to [Theo] cry” at 4 weeks old highlighted a difference in the boys: “He cries with such intensity … that might be annoying for some parents, but for us it’s like, ‘There’s so much energy and strength that wasn’t there with Henry.’ ”

Engel also revealed that Henry “has hip problems,” explaining, “Because he’s not walking and running around and jumping like normal kids, his hips aren’t forming like they should be. There’s a possibility we’re going to have to do major surgery on his hips.”

RELATED VIDEO: Richard Engel Opens Up About his Fears for Son Henry as he Battles Rett Syndrome — Plus Their Tough Decision to Have More Kids

Meanwhile, as of Wednesday afternoon, there are at least 205,172 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.S. — the most worldwide — with at least 4,540 people having died from coronavirus-related illness domestically, according to a New York Times database. Johns Hopkins is reporting 905,279 confirmed cases globally, with 45,371 deaths.

President Donald Trump has extended social distancing guidelines to April 30 in an attempt to continue to “slow the spread” of COVID-19 throughout the U.S., he announced on Sunday. He had previously expressed a desire to reopen the country by Easter.

However, Trump, 73, told reporters on Sunday that his Easter comment “was just an aspiration,” adding that he hopes the U.S. will “be well on our way to recovery” by June 1.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. To help provide doctors and nurses on the front lines with life-saving medical resources, donate to Direct Relief here.