SOUTH CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Nora and Dave Corder knew early on something was different about their son, Nate.

"He was 4 pounds at 37 weeks," Nora said. "He was so tiny."

Now 4 years old, Nate eventually would be diagnosed with Russell-Silver syndrome, a form of dwarfism.

"It's a growth disorder, and he also doesn't chew food," Nora said. "He gags on solid food. His head is average-size, however; his forehead is very prominent."

Nora said that while Nate is the size of a 2-year-old, it is expected he will grow to be about 4 foot, 5 inches or 4 foot, 6 inches as an adult.

"He has learning disabilities," Nora said. "ABC's are too abstract. But yet, he could tell you everything about a truck because it's right there, it's concrete."

In addition to Russell-Silver's, Nate also was born with Duane's syndrome.

"He can't move his eyes outward," Nora said. "He has not emotional tears. He tears up when he's drinking."

Nate also undergoes physical therapy to help deal with muscle tone issues.

Despite the challenges facing her family, Nora takes Nate and his 2-year-old sister, Nina, with her on weekly trips to a local nursing home to cheer up the residents.

She said doing so makes her realize how fortunate she is and she sees how happy residents at the nursing home are despite their own disabilities.

"I'm hoping Nate will stay like that, too, keeping that child-like happiness," Nora said.

She said Nate has begun to notice he is not growing but that his friends are.

"I hope it doesn't kill his spirit," Nora said. "Because he's got a great spirit."

Nora also used to volunteer with a program that used horses to work with children with disabilities. Children were taken out of their wheelchairs and lifted onto the horses.

"And they just feel so confident, like different," Nora said.

She thought perhaps a large dog could have a similar effect on her son.

"I thought a Great Dane would be great for Nate, just to help him along throughout the years," Nora said.

Although it took months of searching online, the Corders finally found Molly, a 2-year-old black Great Dane. They adopted her in early December.

"She's very gentle," Nora said. "She loves children. She's just so sweet."

Molly has grown up with struggles of her own. She was rescued from a home in Terre Haute, Ind., when the owner she was with reportedly had to choose between feeding the family's children or Molly.

Susan Hanlon, owner of I Wanna Go Home Rescue, said Molly was fed a diet consisting of only peanut butter.

"So she lost 50 pounds," Hanlon said. "She was 95 pounds when she came up here. She should have been 140 (pounds)."

Hanlon, who runs her rescue operation out of her Sauk Village home, said she posted Molly online and received a call from Nora just 20 minutes later.

Hanlon said Molly was "skittish" at first, and probably hadn't been socialized.

"She was very scared," Hanlon said.

Molly seems very comfortable with her new family. She has put on some weight, and the only signs of wear are what appear to perhaps be some calluses on her elbows.

"I guess she was left on the cement," Nora said. "Now she's in heaven."

Molly now sleeps on the floor by Nate or on the bottom level of his bunk bed.

Nate enjoys taking part in walks with Molly and seems quite attached to her already.

"I think this dog was meant to be for us," Nora said. "I really do."

Dave Corder said Molly measures 32 inches from the ground to the top of her shoulders. She is about 6 feet tall when she stands on her hind legs.

Dave feels the large dog will help Nate make friends more easily as he gets older. He said Nate is a popular preschooler who has not been subjected to bullying to this point.

"Yet later on in life there probably will be," Dave said. "Hopefully this will help him out."

Nora does not plan to use Molly just to help her own child.

"We're going to be taking Molly to classes to be a therapeutic dog to help children who are nonverbal or with disabilities," she said.

Nora wants to use Molly to bring joy to children in hospitals the same way she sees nursing home residents light up when she brings Nate and Nina for visits.

"I just think that Molly will give so much joy to that family and I think she's gonna help so many people," Hanlon said.

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Night Editor

Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.