Touching Concern Ellicott City/elkridge

April 26, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Dolores Wilson and Kendra Munzer don't know each other, but both are helping a brain-injured Elkridge boy achieve a normal life.

The two women are among 60 volunteers who sacrifice an hour each week to help 6-year-old Brian Rafkin improve his mobility, language, vision, hearing and tactile development. They also do a host of other chores for his parents, including grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, and baby sitting the Rafkins' youngest child, 13-month-old Cory.

"These people are good, caring members of the community," said Deedra Rafkin, who has lived in Elkridge for 10 years. "It wasn't until we had the volunteers and patterning that we felt cemented in the community."

Steve and Deedra Rafkins' eldest son was brain damaged at birth when the umbilical cord became wrapped around his neck and deprived him of oxygen.

Neurologically, Brian is about 3 years old. He has trouble speaking, breathing and until recently could not dress himself. He also has double vision.

In November, the Rafkins began an ambitious program that requires Brian's brain to think and work almost every minute of the waking day, and a battalion of volunteers from the community to help him.

Four people "cross-pattern" Brian, manipulating his arms and legs to imitate a crawling motion for five-minute stretches, ten times a day.

He must crawl on his stomach for 342 feet, three times a day, and creep on his hands and knees more than a mile each day. He reads 100 flashcards 32 times a day. When he's not doing anything else, he wears a plastic breathing mask to increase the oxygen to his brain.

"When you have a brain-injured child, your whole world is your child," said Mrs. Rafkin, who quit her job as a Johns Hopkins nurse in December to take care of Brian full-time. Mr. Rafkin, a lawyer at a Silver Spring firm, bathes Brian when he comes home from work and reads him bedtime stories.

To reach potential volunteers, the Rafkins posted fliers around Elkridge and sent circulars to local churches.

Kendra Munzer is one of the people who responded. The Elkridge resident first saw the 8 1/2 -by-11 flier while using an automated teller machine at Elkridge National Bank. She initially dismissed it.

"At first, I really didn't think much about it," said Ms. Munzer, who reconsidered her decision. "I thought if everybody blows it off like I do, she'll never get anybody."

Now Ms. Munzer helps grocery shop for the Rafkins, buying basics like milk, toilet paper and diapers.

Although she works full-time at a paper, pulp and chemical company in Laurel and attends night school four times a week, the 21-year-old said she doesn't feel like she does enough for the Rafkins.

"I don't feel like I'm doing anything because it's only a jaunt in [the supermarket]," she said.

But Mrs. Rafkin says the volunteers make a tremendous difference.

"Without the volunteers, we couldn't do it," said the 42-year-old mother, who used to stay up until 2 or 3 a.m. preparing vocabulary flash cards for Brian.

The volunteers prepare the hundreds of words and phrases Brian reviews each week. On Fridays, a group of women from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Ellicott City visits the Rafkin household.

About eight to 10 volunteers cross-pattern Brian each day on a vinyl padded table that was built by a neighbor. Twelve volunteers a day come Saturday and Sunday.

While Mrs. Rafkin and three volunteers cross-pattern Brian, two others sit at the dining room table drawing ruler lines on his flash cards and tracing red dots in a lap counter he uses to record the number of times he creeps around the living room.

Volunteers handle other duties as well. Once a week, a neighbor mows the lawn and a Howard County librarian, who did patterning 15 years ago, brings them library books.

A Howard County General Hospital nurse shops at health food stores for the family once a week, and one woman, who hasn't even met the Rafkins, regularly sends them two main dishes a week via a volunteer.

Mrs. Rafkin said she plans to send the woman a photo of Brian, "so she knows who she's helping." A hairdresser even comes every two months to cut Brian's and his mother's hair.

"People do amazing things," Mrs. Rafkin said. "You don't know what people are capable of doing."

The volunteers said the time they spend with Brian is the least they can do.

"I can't prevent war, but I can help here," said Kathy McAndrew, a Columbia resident who heard about Brian at Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

"It seems little enough to do and it seems to help," said Margaret Florenzo of Columbia.

Since they began helping three months ago, volunteers said they have noticed a change in Brian.

"He wouldn't let us touch him," recalled Eileen Snead of Ellicott City, who has been volunteering one day a week since January. One day she pretended to cry when he shied away. Now Brian recognizes her, putting his hands over his eyes whenever he sees her and calling her by name.

Brian also recently began dressing himself and hopping down the family's flight of stairs -- a feat he was unable to do before, Mrs. Rafkin said.

She credits part of his progress to the volunteers.

"He hopped down the steps and took the rest one at a time. I just about died," Mrs. Rafkin said. "I was so encouraged."

She also credits Brian for his own success.

"Brian works so hard from the minute he wakes up until he goes to bed," said Mrs. Rafkin, who hopes he goes on to college one day.

"We want him to have a normal life, not just be taken care of," Mrs. Rafkin said. "I want to give him a shot."

The Rafkins said they need about 25 more volunteers. For more information, call 796-0220.

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