Imagine what it must be like to have beautiful, unique, and important thoughts, but no way to share those thoughts with the world around you. Image if the people in your life had no way of understanding the depth of your ideas because you had no way to express yourself. Imagine if your competence was not presumed because you had no voice to prove otherwise. Imagine if you were constantly quizzed to prove that you understood the world around you, before you were given a chance to prove you have the ability to communicate, When that opportunity came, imagine if you were only given two options to choose from at a time, that someone else selected for you, and if you didn't like either choice, it was assumed that you didn't understand the question.
This is the unfortunate reality for many non-verbal children and adults. Many approach the task of communication for those with complex communication needs by starting with a handful of picture symbols and adding a few more at a time as the child demonstrates they can communicate appropriately. This is not what we do with neuro-typical children - we do not decide that we are only going to say 6 specific words and only those words around a baby. We know they don't understand everything we say, but still we immerse our babies in language, and that is how they learn language. Why would it seem appropriate to do anything different with non-verbal children?
Earlier this year, I was blessed to be introduced to the concept of robust communication, and our lives has changed since that moment. I am disappointed in myself and how I limited my son prior to providing him with robust communication book. My heart aches for the unspoken doubt I had in him and his capabilities. It is overwhelming to think of all the other children and adults in the world that have not been given this chance and how hopeless they must feel, living in this world without a voice.
We have embraced a robust communication system called PODD (pragmatic organizational dynamic display) that allows Curren to say whatever he wants, whenever he wants, to whoever he wants. We started out this summer by just modeling what was going on in his life in the form of aided language input - by narrating life and pointing to the symbols in his book that represented these thoughts. Soon after we introduced the communication book, Curren started pointing for the first time in his life. And he started pointing to symbol in his book. He has shared wonderful things with us - he loves asking to play ball, to make cars crash, to swing, for it to be quiet, and to brush his teeth. He can tell us that something's wrong, and ask for a sensory activity when he's overstimulated. He can tell us that his brother is silly, or that he wants to visit gammy, or that he's ready to go to bed. I recently began videoing our interactions and logging all the communicative functions Curren is able to initiate with his PODD book. In 30 minutes, Curren pointed to 91 symbols, that were all appropriate to the situation. This would not happen if we only allow him access to 6 symbols until he mastered those, only to add a few more at a time. In fact, it would take decades for him to have access to enough language to have spontaneous and genuine conversations if we took that approach.
I bring these points up because October is AAC awareness month, and I have personally experienced and heard many stories from others about the world not being accepting of these ideas. Not having speech is not the same as not understanding. All people have a basic right to affect, through communication, the condition of their existence. My son just wants to be doing what the others are doing.
I often think back to the moment Curren was born, a 9 lb pink and cooing healthy baby. I remember the rush of relief when I saw his 10 fingers and 10 toes, his plump and beautiful face, and his perfectly round head. “Congratulations, he is healthy and normal” they said! I think back to the first few months of his life and how blissful and perfect it all felt. Curren was a happy, laid back baby who slept great and loved to snuggle; life was fantastic. My mind often went to dreams of the future. I saw visions of Curren chasing Weston in the backyard, of them darting out of their beds on Christmas morning to see their presents, of boogie boarding together at the beach, of the boys coming to our house at the holidays with their children/my grandchildren. It is heavy and devastating to give up on those picturesque visions. My grief is not in the mourning of a death, but sorrow for the devastation that has shattered my dreams. I am grieving the child that I lost, but that I still have.
What does my grief look like? It is the embarrassment after bystanders wanted to call 911 on my child who was having a sensory meltdown at the crowded reading of The Polar Express at Barnes and Noble. It is the shame felt watching someone ask Curren to clap or crawl for them like he is a dog being asked to perform on command. It is the pain left after a stranger questioned what was wrong with his legs on the first day out in his wheelchair. It is the desperation I feel after working a full time job and knowing I am coming home to another full time job of carrying, wiping, hand feeding, soothing, holding, teaching, loving, case managing, applying, appealing, and researching – all which may be necessary for decades longer or until my body can no longer do it. It is the anger burning inside in knowing that my son has important things to say, but that we have not yet found a way to make it so we understand him. It is the stinging sadness I swallow when parents complain about how they wished their child wouldn’t talk so much or how exhausted they are chasing after their baby who can now walk. But mostly, it is the guilt following the acknowledgement of embarrassment, shame, pain, desperation, anger or sadness.
Don’t mistake my grief for negativity. In fact, I feel more optimistic that ever about the future. My intense love and pride for my child is not in question, but the disability that has shattered my dreams is always stinging. The grieving never ends – there are no stages or moving on. I am, however, blessed to accept and embrace grief. Ironically, grief and hope seem to have a direct relationship for me. My grief inspires our journey, and it is the reason we do the things we do.
How do I stay hopeful and optimistic? I honestly don’t stray too far from the present. Life is precious, and what we have today, we may not tomorrow – and even if it’s not what we first dreamed of, it is still a tremendous gift. Curren is not able to chase Weston, but that doesn’t mean they don’t play in other beautiful ways. The excitement of Santa’s presents still happens, we’re just not barreling down the hallway on our own to see what is in the living room. We go the beach and have a blast (although it is exhausting). We work hard on the things that keep this grief burning, and will one day walk and communicate important things. My dreams are still here, they are just a variation of my first vision. The common theme to it all was laughter, happiness, and joy – and we definitely have that. Life is unexpected, unplanned, and beautiful.
We have been blessed to have the same incredible team of therapists working with Curren since he was 9 months old. This was first covered through Florida's Early Intervention program, Early Steps, which offers services to eligible infants and toddlers (birth to thirty-six months) with significant delays or a condition likely to result in a developmental delay. When Curren turned 3, we were able to get medical coverage through Florida’s Children’s Medical Services (CMS Title 21), a Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) plan for children with special health care needs, which continued to cover Curren's 9 hours of weekly PT, OT, and ST. Curren's CMS coverage was critical to maintaining his therapy services at Ability Plus, since our private insurance through Cigna will not cover his services there. We are devastated to share that this is Curren's last week at Ability Plus due to loss of coverage, and despite intense efforts to appeal, Curren will not be able to continue seeing the therapists that have worked with him for almost 3 years now. There is no program in the state of Florida to provide the medical and therapeutic services that medically complex kids need (and private insurance will not provide) once they turn 3 if their families are found financially ineligible. These programs are not only necessary for assisting families with financial need, but also imperative for allowing access to services needed during a critical time of development when left otherwise without access.
To our caring and loving speech therapist - you were the first friendly face we saw when we walked through the door at Ability Plus with our 9 month old squishy baby. You taught Curren how to eat, and before your help, he could not swallow without gagging, choking, and crying. He was struggling with failure to thrive, and you helped him succeed during a time when his GI doctor was recommending a feeding tube. I remember worrying about Curren having a cake to smash at his 1st birthday, in fear that he would choke and cry and scare everyone. But he learned to chew and swallow, and Curren's first birthday party was magical. You have taught Curren how to express himself in his own way, and he is so much happier in life because of that. You have taught me not settle on expectations, and that we should be shooting for the stars. Curren is much more capable than he is often given credit for. Thank you for your commitment and investment in my son.
To our incredibly talented occupational therapist - you have such a unique ability to push Curren to work hard, but still all the while making everything fun. When Curren was little, he loved getting big squeeze hugs from you. You taught him so much, and opened our eyes to the world of spio suits, listening therapy, therapeutic brushing, and joint compressions. You cared so much that you even attended hours of Curren's first IEP meeting, to advocate for his services in the public school district. He lights up at home when we say your name, and almost always claps or blows kisses. He certainly has a special place for you in his heart. You have taught Curren how to play, how to feed himself, how to drink from a cup, and how to point - all things easily taken for granted, but are incredible gains that took years of patience and dedication. Thank you for your passion and determination to open difficult doors for Curren.
To our phenomenal physical therapist - you have changed the game for Curren. When we started coming to Ability Plus for OT and ST, I saw the impressive PT gym, and knew this was where Curren needed to be. When he first started seeing you, he was incredibly static, but through your guidance has now gained the strength and confidence to roll, push, creep, pull, step, and move to get from here to there. You always went above and beyond to get Curren everything that could help him - from hand making his own thera-tog suit (since insurance wouldn't cover it), to personal aqua therapy sessions in our pool. You were tough, yet encouraging, and pulled every ounce of energy Curren had into training his body to move, and most recently, helped him to really "find his feet". Thank you for giving the gift of mobility to Curren. He will only be going onward and upward from here.
To our intensive physical therapists - thank you for your rigor and determination. Spending 3 hours a day every day for 3 weeks with Curren has really changed the way he senses and uses his body. These programs were gigantic jumpstarts to take Curren to the next level. We will be walking sooner thanks to you!
We wouldn't have been able to start on this path without the support from our amazing case manager at Early Steps. You listened to me, and helped me to get all the services Curren needed. We are blessed to have been under your care, and you made a bumpy and unsure road feel much less daunting. Thank you for making Curren's early years filled with the best possible opportunities for him to learn and grow.
This team has been on this journey with us from the very beginning, and has provided so much love and support to Curren, from the office staff to the therapists. It is incredibly difficult to think about saying goodbye. Thank you all for making a difference in Curren's life.
My family is on a journey I didn't expect to take, and a foundation of hope has been my north star. Our journey can be inspiring but also many times daunting, and if we become hopeless we will lose our way. I would like to honor my son by sharing his brave journey.
Curren has been seen by 5 neurologists, 4 geneticists, a neurogeneticist, 2 developmental specialists, a GI specialist, an ENT specialist, 2 ophthalmologists, a orthopedist, 2 orthotists, a podiatrist, 2 psychologists, 2 pediatricians, 4 physical therapists, 2 occupational therapists, and 2 speech therapists - this has all been in the first 3 years of life. Beginning about 2 years ago, Curren ramped up therapy to 5 days a week, sometimes up to 4 hours in one day. He is a tough cookie, and he works very hard every day. Sometimes he forgets how to do the things he learns, but Curren never gives up.
Curren was born with a mutation in his HIVEP2 gene, but he was not diagnosed until he was 2 years old, after a long diagnostic journey. When reviewing his birth records, I noticed they recorded abnormal hypotonic behavior and muscular tone upon his first evaluation, but it was actually Curren's daycare that told me his muscle tone was not normal 4 months later. Between his low tone and difficulty with brain signaling, Curren has a very hard time controlling movement, especially in his legs. And although his muscles are strong enough to do it, Curren hasn't been able to crawl, pull up, or walk yet. He is, however, doing fantastic in his new wheelchair, and we are planning to get a mobile stander which supports Curren in a standing position but has wheels like a wheelchair so that he can move around and be at the level of his peers. Many people ask if Curren will ever walk, and it's a challenging question to answer. There is no way to know, but I have hope that he will.
We have been very blessed with good health over the past year, but that wasn't always the case. Curren was first sick when he was 4 weeks old, and was on antibiotics over 20 times during the first year and a half of life. He was diagnosed with reactive airway disorder at 4 months old, when he was in the hospital for respiratory distress. Curren also experienced a seizure and metabolic crisis event when he was two. Many of the other children with HIVEP2 disorder experience GI issues, but the only problem we have experienced is a failure to thrive diagnosis based on Curren's slow growth. We are also very fortunate so far to have good reports from the ophthalmologist, as eye problem are common for our community.
Perhaps one of the most challenging aspects of HIVEP2 disorder is the developmental disabilities. Like many others, Curren was diagnosed with autism, although he is actually very motivated by social experiences. The features of autism that Curren displays are regressions, language disorder, sensory integration disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Curren is non-verbal, and it is so difficult for a child who has so much to say to not be able to say any of it. He understands what it going on around him, and he has intent for his legs, hands, and mouth to do certain things, but the message seems to get scrambled and the action doesn't happen the way it should. Lately, I ask Curren to touch his head (which is actually very challenging for him since he can't see it) and he starts clapping. I can tell from the look on his face that he is not thinking about clapping and is confused why his hands aren't touching his head, but the directions from his brain don't seem to be delivering the right message. I see this also in his speech. Once when we were in the hospital, and he was over it. He said clear as day "all done", but hasn't said it again in over a year. I can't imagine the frustration to have this disconnect between your brain and your body, but my son handles it incredibly.
On this journey, we have seen such kindness and compassion. It is so heartwarming to see Curren's fans, rooting for him to not give up. Curren has an exceptional team of professionals caring for him and looking for answers. We are eternally grateful to the doctors and therapists that are making a difference in Curren's life. It is not always an easy journey, but the people that support Curren do make hope feel more grounded. I am also so very proud of my son for the tremendous effort that he puts forth, and for his beautiful spirit that has not been subdued. I have hope for the future and what it holds!
I have been honored with an incredible opportunity - to represent the rare disease community in Washington DC during the 2017 Rare Disease Week on Capitol Hill. Hosted by Rare Disease Legislative Advocates, hundreds of rare disease community members from across the country will join together to learn about federal legislative issues, meet other advocates, and share their unique stories with legislators. I am thrilled to be participating in this series of events, and very excited to share Curren's voice (and many others, too!) with our Congressmen and Senators. My goal is to raise legislative awareness for the needs of the rare disease community, and address roadblocks in the development and access of critical treatment and management options. There are three specific issues that I will be focusing on during my trip, which not only impact the rare disease community, but also much of the general American population.
The first critical issue is the lack of treatment and management options. At three years old, Curren has seen over 20 doctors, and none of them have been able to prescribe any type of medication or treatment that has helped to manage any of Curren's symptoms. In fact, many of his symptoms are getting worse over time. This is not uncommon in the rare disease community. Statistics show that there are over 7000 rare diseases and less than 500 FDA-approved treatments for those rare diseases - that leaves 93% of rare diseases with no treatment or management options. Sadly, many rare diseases are terminal, and 30% of patients die before their 5th birthday, This skews the patient population so that over half of those battling rare diseases are children, There needs to be a stronger emphasis on orphan drug expansion, increasing FDA funding, and modernizing clinical trials to help those who are running out of time.
The second critical issue is healthcare policy. Up until last year, Curren was on private insurance through my employer, During that time, we were denied coverage for speech therapy (for a completely non-verbal child), physical therapy (for a non-ambulatory child), occupation therapy (for a child who cannot feed himself), ABA therapy (for a child with autism), B12 and folinic acid supplements (because they aren't FDA approved), spio compression suits (because of medical coding issues), and whole exome sequencing (because it wasn't "medically necessary"). That's right - Curren's genetic test that actually provided his diagnosis was found to be not medically necessary, even after appeal, and was not covered under private insurance. This decision was on the premise that the small chance of "meaningful" information resulting was not worth the cost, and regardless should not change his plan of care. I do beg to differ. Now we know that Curren has a lifelong disease that is due to a mutation in a gene, he will not "grow out of it" as some doctors said early on, and it absolutely does change his plan of care.
This past year, Curren was eligible for a state CHIP insurance program for medically complex children, and it has been a tremendous blessing, This program has covered all the therapies, adaptive equipment, and appointments that private insurance didn't. Because of our CHIP coverage, Curren has been able to go to the best pediatric rehabilitation facility in our county, get a wheelchair, see multiple specialists, get on a waiting list for ABA therapy, and much more, I am concerned that whether public or private, children with profound medical conditions and disabilities do not have access to the therapies and early interventions that will allow them to be their personal best in life. I know that healthcare is a very politically charged issue right now, and I don't want to get into politics in this post. I do, however, feel that whether conservative or liberal, we have a duty to protect our most vulnerable and maintain a system that allows children with or without complex needs the opportunity to thrive.
My last critical issue is one that really applies to us all, and that is one of advancing research. Where would we be without science? W. Edwards Deming once said, "without data you're just another person with an opinion." Whether in my professional life as an architect, or in a personal capacity as an advocate, data is needed to create a defendable foundation. Now more than ever, we should be removing barriers to increase research collaboration and investing in 21st century science, I have to say, I was not happy to see potential FDA commissioner Joseph Gulfos's position in his recent op ed, stating that he wants to see more research funding shifted to supporting treatments for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and away from rare diseases. I would first like to point out that rare disease research helps us understand medicine for all diseases. One of many examples being this story of a rare lysosomal storage disorder informing therapeutic targets for Parkinson's disease. Secondly (and selfishly), I am a bit offended about the idea that we would give up on diseases that primarily affect children that have no treatment or management options to focus on often lifestyle-related conditions that already have FDA-approved treatments. I am not trying to stir controversy, but I would be thrilled to have an option of surgery or medication or medical device or dietary change that would improve my son's quality of life - but unfortunately none of these are an option to me. I will be a squeaky wheel, as Joseph Gulfo points out, until my son has options available to him to make his life better. To give him the opportunity to speak words (and anyone that knows Curren, knows he has a multitude of words to say) . To give him the opportunity to walk (or run, or chase his brother), To give him to them opportunity to not be a "failure to thrive".
Please stand with us on February 28th, to show solidarity for the rare community. Alone we are rare, but together we are strong.
And just like that, 2016 is drawing to a close. It has been a dynamic year of juxtapositions, with so many exciting new developments for Curren. It is also hard not to feel bittersweet, as I reflect on my hopes as we started the year. Would this be the year Curren starts to walk? Will he say a "first" word again, and keep it? I could not be more proud of the solid progress Curren is making developmentally, but it stings as reality sets in and the window for these milestones appears to be closing. Sometimes life feels like it is flying by and we are trying to just find a stable footing in the dust in order to take the next step. But it does not matter how slowly you go, as long as you do not stop.
We have had many beautiful moments this year. Curren started using a wheelchair, and it has given him his first real sense of independence. He has now mastered moving forward, now we just need to work on turning! We transitioned into a 3-day exceptional education public school program and are so thrilled with the learning opportunities and care that Curren is receiving. We also traveled to Baltimore and New York to meet with experts and have made wonderful connections through that process. As a result, Curren was featured in the Wall Street Journal in a story about Dr Chung, and we organized our first HIVEP2 virtual family conference, with 5 families and many researchers and clinicians in attendence. There are many new opportunities on the horizon and the future is looking very bright.
I think the most difficult aspect of this past year really boils down to one issue - the challenge of communication with a non-verbal child. Any other problem is just compounded when we are not able to understand what Curren is trying to tell us. Last night, Curren cried for hours before he finally fell asleep and there was no way for me to understand what was wrong, what was hurting, or what he was feeling. At times, the lack of effective communication can be heartbreaking. Bigger still, is the task of maintaining an almost irrational faith in society; that my son's vulnerability will not be taken advantage of when I am not there to protect him,
Not being able to rely on verbal communication opens the door to many other meaningful nuances that would most likely be otherwise overlooked. Curren has developed a range of inflection that is a language of it's own. He speaks more like a song bird, with changes in pitch and tempo to indicate different emotions, Curren has also become very good at mimicking and echoing intonation and cadence. It is his way of engaging people. Because he can't yet verbally communicate, Curren relies on his charm to draw attention, and he is developing quite a repertoire of interactions. Without words, we are forced to read more into body language and expression, and it is so much more powerful than words. Five pats on the back means "I love you", a dramatic shake of the head actually means "I really like this" instead of no, and a crooked smile to the right means "I am proud of what I did". It is a beautifully meaningful way of communicating.
One of my favorite movie characters said, “Do you know whatcha gotta do, when life gets you down? Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” (thank you Dory and Ellen)! Whether you are feeling lost in unfamiliar territory, fighting battles that seem unbearable, or struggling in a rut and you feel you can’t overcome - these are words that symbolize what it means to truly persevere to the end. Moving into 2017, there is so much to be excited about, but when the challenges come, we will “just keep swimming, just keep swimming”. Happy New Year to everyone!
We have had such a busy and incredible summer. So busy in fact, that I did not create one post on this blog! It’s hard to believe that Weston is starting school this week and the summer is over. So in these last few moments, we will be soaking in the sun and the fun, and reflecting on this fantastic summer. Here are some of the highlights:
We attended the 18th Family Café Conference and Governor’s Summit on Disabilities in Orlando, and what a wealth of resources and connections for Florida families! My incredible family and friends came over and helped us cover all the great informational sessions that were happening simultaneously (these ranged from disability scholarships, assisted mobility, iOS accessibility features, tax benefits, IEPs, advocacy, and so much more). We heard a panel addressing Florida’s forward momentum for disability support, led by Governor Rick Scott, State Senate Majority Leader Bill Galcano, the Agency for Persons with Disabilities, the Florida Department of Education, and the State Surgeon General. I had no idea that this event even existed, and we were thrilled to participate and walk away so much more informed and prepared for the next steps in life.
Following the excitement of the Family Café, we participated in the events leading to the Port Canaveral Cove Merchant’s Association Mac Attack Fishing Tournament This year, the CMA chose to use the tournament proceeds to fund Curren’s participation in a specialized intensive physical therapy program at Ability Plus.My employer, BRPH, was a sponsor for the event and funded two boats to participate in the tournament.Despite tough weather conditions, the tournament was a great success. Curren will be starting the Intensive Physical Therapy Program in September, where he will spend 3 hours a day every day wearing a dynamic soft orthosis suit and work on muscle strengthening and active functional movements. At the conclusion of the 3 week program, we expect to see huge gains in hopes of Curren becoming independently mobile. We cannot thank the community and the CMA enough for coming together and supporting Curren in this incredible opportunity!
The boys also had their first horse riding lessons (or horsebacking as Weston calls it). Curren participated in equine assisted therapy, where he rode a horse with two side walkers holding on to his waistband (just in case he lost his balance). The repetition of the horses stride is calming, and absorbing the horses movement strengthens core muscles and increases balance. Curren has fallen in love with horse riding, and all the sweet staff at Walk on Water. I highly recommend equine therapy to anyone with developmental delays, physical disabilities, or autism.
Curren is building a large collection of adaptive tools and equipment at home. We installed a little ceiling mounted exerciser called a Merry Muscles in our living room, and Curren loves to jump and spin around in it. We also got a really exciting mobility device called the Upsee, which lets children with motor impairments stand and walk with the help of an adult. It’s a harness system that attaches to my feet and hips and let’s Curren see the world standing up. We also started see a new orthopedic specialist, who fit Curren with AFO leg braces to give him more stability when standing. He was not a fan at first, but he is doing so incredible with this additional support now! Our living room also has several new “furniture” additions – a chicken and an elephant from bobles, a Danish product line aimed at stimulating imagination and developing motor skills. We are also anxiously anticipating the arrival of Curren’s wheelchair, which should be coming in the next month or so.
And now, for the changes on the horizon! Curren will turn 3 next month, and will be phasing out of the Early Intervention program. I cannot say enough incredible things about our experience with Space Coast Early Steps. My heart is just overwhelmed with the support that has been provided to Curren by our team of therapists, the local community, and our Early Steps case manager. The experience that Early Steps provided Curren has built a solid foundation and has honestly changed Curren’s trajectory in life. As sad as we are to close this chapter, we are thrilled to have Curren start in an Early Exceptional Learning Program at a local public school. He will be attending class 3 days a week, and will get additional therapies at school.
We are also preparing for an upcoming trip to New York, where we will meet with the senior author of the most recent HIVEP2 medical publication. We are hoping to learn more about HIVEP2 and how we can further help Curren. We can't wait to see what Dr Chung can do for Curren - she seems like a truly incredible doctor!
I hope that everyone is (mostly) ready for school and has a wonderful fall! It’s so sad to see summer come and go, but the future is looking so bright!
I can't believe it has been almost 2 months since Rare Disease Day, and I really can't believe how much has changed in just that short amount of time. About a month ago, I was checking my weekly notifications from PubMed. I have alerts set up for keywords relating to Curren's disorder, and on this particular day, something very exciting that never had happened before happened. There was an alert for a medical publication using the keyword "HIVEP2". My heart actually stopped beating for a few seconds as read the name of the paper, "Mutations in HIVEP2 are associated with developmental delay,
intellectual disability, and dysmorphic features". Were there other children that had been found? Is there active research going on? I quickly scanned the document and found three incredible and somewhat unbelievable things:
Our advocacy journey has catapulted from next to nothing, to phenomenal (given the context). I was able to contact and discuss Curren's case with Dr Wendy Chung, the senior author from Columbia. We were also accepted into a study called the Simons VIP (Variation in Individuals Project), that aims to collect natural history information for families with specific genetic changes that have a known association to neurodevelopmental disorders, like seizures, developmental delay, and/or features of autism. We are hoping to get enough families enrolled in the study to begin lab studies specific to how HIVEP2 works. Curren has also just been accepted into another study through the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The project is working to gather information from parents to better understand chromosome 6 abnormalities, including gene mutations. We also found out that a 10th child was diagnosed with HIVEP2 dysfunction last week (this is outside of the 9 published children).
We have also had some incredible support from the local community. The Cove Merchant's Association is hosting the annual Port Canaveral Mac Attack fishing tournament on Saturday June 18th, and they have decided to donate tournament proceeds to Ability Plus in Melbourne to sponsor an intensive therapy program for Curren and to help other children in need. Also, Curren has created some bright and beautiful artwork, and my wonderful friend Amy has designed special Jamberry nail wraps from his work! Our friend Ryann also has a beautiful and fun bubble design. These two special edition Jamberry nail wrap collections are bold and perfect for summer, and proceeds benefit HIVEP2 support.
We also recently attended a wonderful event, hosted by Ability Plus and No Limits Academy - the Everyone Can Dance Ball. The resources that these organizations provide to the community are incredible, and we are so blessed to be part of their village. All of Curren's therapists danced with him and everyone had a blast. Here are some of my favorite pictures, wasn't he so dapper?
I had no idea that we would come so far in such a short period of time, and it's hard to imagine what the next few months may have in store. I am so grateful to everyone that is rooting for Curren and keeping us in your thoughts and prayers!
Like the Morrissey song, I wish every day was like Sunday. I love making peace with the chaos that the week before has left. It has been such a beautiful day today - windows open, listening to Billie Holiday, getting lots of smiles from the little guys. If I had a chance to pause life, it would be right now - to soak this face in forever:
So a few weeks back, we attended the ribbon cutting for an adaptive cafe at the UCF campus. The cafe is collaborative effort between Cole Galloway and Dr Jennifer Tucker, the team that created the UCF Go Baby Go program that built Curren's super cool car last year. It provides physical and vocational therapy for people with mobility challenges by incorporating a specially designed harness system that allows workers to move and function freely. We were asked to bring Curren to the ribbon cutting, to demonstrate the infant harness system, and were honored to be part of the event! Curren's brother and cousin came along to cheer him on, and it was so wonderful to see him at eye level with his peers. The harness allows him freedom and support, but most importantly brings his social experience and personal interactions to a whole new level Thank you UCF and Cole Galloway for your pivotal efforts. I can't wait to see the harness system used everywhere!
Curren is also doing lots of new, exciting things. He has starting waving hi and bye again, and he is doing lots of mimicking and imitation right now. He is working so hard, and making promising gains. All these wonderful people that are part of our team are helping Curren to be his very best, and it's pretty awesome!
This weekend, I attended a special education conference hosted by Brevard Public Schools and the Interagency Council of Brevard. I was super impressed by the amount of resources available and the quality of information presented. We connected with a few wonderful people, and received lots of helpful tips. The keynote speaker, Ashley McGrath, was especially impressive. A young woman with a rare genetic disorder affecting her bones and muscles, Ashley shared her story about constantly defying odds. Her autobiography, UnabASHed By Disability, is available for purchase on amazon (I ordered it last night and am really looking forward to reading it!)
As February draws to a close, a very exciting day is right around the corner. A rare day of itself, February 29th is World Rare Disease Day. The main objective of Rare Disease Day is to raise awareness among the general public and decision-makers about rare diseases and their impact on patients' lives. Here are some staggering facts about rare disease.
*Rare diseases impact more people than cancer and AIDS combined
I would love to see Curren's friends showing support for him and all others fighting rare diseases! Global Genes has some great social media graphics, I've included some of them at the end of this post. The World Rare Disease Day website also has some wonderful information and personal stories of those fighting rare disease (Curren's story is included on their website!) Thank you everyone!
I am stick-a-fork-in-me done right now. But we were a part of something so awesome this past weekend that I know I won't be able to go to sleep until I tell the world about it. So here it goes (please don't judge me, I am just slightly above zombie mode due to a teething and sick and not sleeping toddler, the poisonous coral snake that was in my laundry room over the weekend, Curren's multiple trips to ER last week, the Christmas tree collapse earlier last week that absolutely sounded like a break-in at 2:00 am - need I go on (I'm sure I missed 6 or 7 other ridiculous moments of the week?)
Curren was a participant in the Go Baby Go program at UCF this weekend. The goal - to provide mobility to children with disabilities through low-cost modifications to off-the-shelf power wheel riding cars. The results were simply amazing. There were 16 lucky kiddos that had a custom car built just for them, from a team of volunteers consisting of physical therapists, engineering students, various professionals, and other community supporters. There was so much enthusiasm and excitement at this event, and it was very touching to see so many community members turn out to help these little guys get such a cool and unique gift.
Go Baby Go was started by by Cole Galloway, a physical therapist and professor at the University of Delaware. He began his mobility studies paired with a mechanical engineer, and they started off by building power mobility robots. But with the price of custom robots so high, they were inaccessible to most families. Even pediatric power wheelchairs run about $5000 a pop. So Galloway's next move was to create fun, affordable toddler ride-on cars customized by using PVC piping, pool noodles, kick-boards, and minor electrical modifications for under $200 a vehicle. Fast forward to now, and he's traveling the country, hosting fabulous events like the one we attended at UCF last Friday.
Our awesome build team (called Team Curren!) included 3 physical therapy students, a physical therapy student's mother, and an engineering student. They transformed an off-the-shelf Lightning McQueen power wheels toy into a moving machine for Curren, customized with special touches, like our large Bruce (the shark from Finding Nemo) sticker and Storm Trooper kickboard back.
While our incredible build team was busy making our vehicle, we got to meet new friends and try out another one of Galloway's creations - an infant harness system, supported from a simple support structure above that allows freedom of movement almost like a bridge crane - forward, backward, left, and right - all seamlessly. This harness and support system was utilized at the University of Delaware's Go Baby Go Coffee Shop, where adults with traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries engage in vocational rehabilitation and work at the cafe.
At the end of the day, Curren tried out his car for the first time. He was at first pretty perplexed by the idea of being able to move by pressing a button, but he quickly caught on and loved the idea of free movement. All the kiddos got together for a group picture, and it was overwhelming to see all the little ones lined up in their customized set of wheels. I am so incredibly grateful to Cole Galloway, UCF, and Team Curren for including us in this awesome event. Curren has been sporting his wheels every day since the build.
For more information on Go Baby Go, including upcoming events and how to participate or volunteer, be sure to check out the links below:
And for a little more background on Cole Galloway, check out his TEDMED, "A Movement for Mobility":
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I am a mother, architect, wife, and a lover (not a fighter) - with a thirst for knowledge. My journey been recently refocused, as my family navigates through the world of medical and developmental uncertainty in hopes of providing every opportunity for my son to be his personal best in life.