IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Dad posts shirtless selfie to raise awareness of son's health condition

One dad's shirtless selfie went viral because of his encouraging note to his 3-year-old son, who suffers from a congenital heart condition.
/ Source: TODAY

Robert Selby may have an impressive set of abs, but the Virginia dad’s fit physique isn’t the reason why his recent selfie has gone viral. In fact, it’s Selby’s son Chace who steals the spotlight in an Instagram post that has now garnered more than 118,000 likes.

“My son is sucking in his stomach, trying to show off his abs like his daddy but all you see are his little ribs,” Selby, 33, captioned the image, in which Chace stands atop the bathroom counter to be on the same level as his dad.

Both father and son are shirtless in the photo, wearing a pair of black basketball shorts.

“I just cut and glued one of his G-tube on me to show support for him. He has a congenital heart defect and he uses a feeding tube. But as long as I'm breathing he'll never be in a fight alone,” Selby wrote.

In the adorable picture, Chace checks his own muscles out in the mirror as he sucks in his gut, his tongue peeking out of the side of his mouth. The 3-year-old has a long scar running down the front of his chest from two open-heart surgeries, and a feeding tube attached to his torso just under his right ribs; Selby shows off his own faux-tube in the same spot to show his support.

“This was actually a picture from a year ago,” Selby told TODAY. “I did this same photo every year from when he was 6 months old, way back. Last year, he asked me, ‘Why do I have a G-tube?’ and I told him it’s because he’s so strong, because he’s Superman. He’s Super Chace. I told him he’s stronger than Daddy, and he said, ‘But you’re Super Dad,’ so I said OK, and I put a G-tube on me, too.”

Chace has something called Tetralogy of Fallot, a congenital heart condition caused by a combination of four different heart defects at birth. The rare condition occurs in 5 out of every 10,000 babies, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Because of his condition, Chace requires the feeding tube in order to get enough calories each day, since ingesting food orally can sometimes prove challenging. Selby said that Chace was just 5 pounds when he was born, and when he was finally discharged from the hospital after two surgeries, doctors were worried because he’d never learned to use a bottle — he had only had a feeding tube.

“When you’re expecting a child, you’re not planning for the worst,” he said. “You’re thinking about the gender, what kind of clothes you’ll buy him or her, those kinds of exciting things. You’re not thinking about the ‘What ifs’ — like, what if my baby has a health condition?”

One thing that Selby has made sure of is that Chace never feels like there’s anything he can’t do.

“He doesn’t know about his condition because I don’t treat him like he has a condition,” Selby said. “I tell him he can do anything anybody else can do. Sports, gymnastics, anything. I tell him to never say you can’t.”

Selby added that Chace is his gym buddy, and recently ran a quarter of a mile on a treadmill.

“He goes into environments and he is always the center of attention because he’s so well-mannered," Selby said. "People gravitate toward him, and that’s just because he’s being him.”

When Selby shared the cute father-son image with Miracles & Messes, an inspirational Instagram account collecting user-submitted stories and photos, he wasn’t expecting his photo to go viral the way it has, but he’s glad for the attention it could bring to those who suffer from the same condition as his son.

“I’m excited and I’m happy,” Selby said. “I want to give people hope and be uplifting. When everything was going on with Chace, I went online and it helped to see other parents who had gone through similar situations and were doing OK, to see their sons and daughters who grew up to be married at 21, 22. So if I can help even just one person a day, I’m doing my job.”

In addition to chronicling sweet moments with his mini-me via Instagram, Selby also creates videos of the pair’s outings and adventures, which he shares to his YouTube channel several times a week.