Parents Give A Little Extra To Down's Syndrome Child

October 28, 1990|By Terrie Snyder | Terrie Snyder,Contributing writer

April Joy Meyers is like most 2-year-olds.

She loves carousing with her older sister and brothers, playing with dolls, going to her grandmother's house and eating pancakes.

But the moment April came into the world her mother, Sue Meyers of Bel Air, knew something was different about the child.

The delivery room had been filled with the excited sounds that usually accompany such a happy occasion. But, as soon as the little girl was born, the atmosphere changed. The room got quiet, she recalls.

Meyers was a veteran in the delivery room. By then, at 40, she already had three children -- Jennie, 10, Derek, 7 and Danny, 5. She knew what delivery room activity was like after giving birth. This time, it was far too quiet.

She lay on the delivery table, waiting to see her new daughter, but no one brought her over. Then, Meyers recalls, she was wheeled into the recovery room and was left there -- alone.

Finally, a nurse went to her and said they were checking to make sure the baby was all right. And, in that instant, with no warning and for no particular reason, Sue knew. "She has Down's syndrome, doesn't she?" she asked the nurses.

Meyers was right on target.

For the 20-year veteran flight attendant, April's birth and the desire to be more involved with her older children as they grew spelled an end to her career with United Airlines -- something she had planned with April's birth.

But April's birth meant the start of something Meyers hadn't planned on -- her involvement with the Chesapeake Down's Syndrome Parent Group, which provides emotional support to the families of children with Down's and education outreach in the community.

Down's syndrome is the most common genetic cause of mental retardation. Most Down's children are mildly retarded, like April. But, in some cases they have profound disabilities.

Meyers and others in the group are often called to hospitals to talk to parents of newborns with Down's. They talk about their own children, what the new parents can expect and where to get help.

Today, Meyers is president of the organization and on a mission to educate the public about the potential of children with Down's.

Says Meyers, "Down's syndrome children can contribute to society. They have feelings just like we do. People need to know there are varying abilities in people with Down's Syndrome."

Each year, 4,000 babies are born in the United States with Down's syndrome -- a birth defect that's caused by an extra 21st chromosome.

Normally, each person has two of those chromosomes. People with Down's syndrome have three. New research from Johns Hopkins Hospital has shown the extra chromosome comes from the mother in 95 percent of the cases.

About one-third of those with Down's syndrome victims have gastro-intestinal and heart defects, most of them now correctable by surgery. Fortunately for April, she does not have any serious medical problems.

These children also tend to have slightly distorted facial features: mildly slanted eyes, flattened bridge of the nose and small hands, feet and ears.

The most common myth about Down's is that most children are born to mothers older than 35. In fact, 80 percent of the mothers are younger than 35. But, the risk of having a Down Syndrome child does increase with age: from one in 1,667 at age 20 to one in 106 at age 40.

As Sue recovered from April's delivery, she knew virtually nothing about Down's. But, while she and her husband Jim were "in shock," they were determined to learn everything they could about the condition and what they could do to help their little girl.

They read voraciously, everything they could get their hands on. And, they got help from the 115 families in the Chesapeake Down's Syndrome Parent Group.

Sue and Jim Meyers did not know what April would be able to do. What lay ahead for her? One woman from the support group went to see the Meyers family and told them what types of things her daughter could do. That first contact opened up a new world for the Meyers.

Within weeks after April's birth, Sue Meyers went to one of the Chesapeake Down's Syndrome Parent Group meetings. Families from Harford, Baltimore, and Howard counties and Baltimore City regularly attend the meetings in Timonium. Meyers thought she would be uncomfortable surrounded by children with Down's. But, the meeting was a revelation. "They're just like other kids, but I didn't know that."

While they were learning about Down's, and more about themselves in the process, April's parents, Sue and Jim Meyers, coped with the well-meaning, but sometimes insensitive support from friends and relatives. They recall receiving cards from friends congratulating them on the birth, wishing them hope for April's "affliction."

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