Twenty-one years ago, my twin daughters, Cheyenne and Dakota, were born premature. A team of doctors in their white lab coats lined up at the bottom of my bed and told me, “I‘m sorry, but your daughters have Down syndrome.” Instead of congratulating me on the birth of my beautiful babies, doctors told me that, since I was a single parent, the twins would be a burden to me and I should give them up for adoption. They assumed I would not be able to provide the care my daughters needed. I was also told my daughters would never be able to walk or talk. But I knew better.
When I brought Dakota and Cheyenne to Kennedy Krieger, I experienced a completely different mindset. At my first visit to the Down Syndrome Clinic and Research Center, the doctor made a point to congratulate me, which was very heartwarming and much-needed. That was the first time I had heard that from anyone, and the girls were 6 months old. Dr. George Capone was the complete opposite of the doctors I had met before. He said my girls would walk and talk and do everything that other children would, only at a slower pace. Kennedy Krieger gave me hope—not that they were going to cure my children—but hope in what my children could do, that they had potential and expectations just like every child has. The girls received occupational, physical, and speech-language therapy at Kennedy Krieger, and I worked with them at home.
They were learning more each day, and by age 4, the girls were talking and walking. Soon they began school, where they continued to thrive. Today, my girls attend Baltimore County Public Schools, and are involved in Special Olympics, cheerleading, bowling, and soccer. Cheyenne is the class clown—she loves to make her teachers and classmates laugh. She hopes to find a job working with animals. Dakota is artistic, and wants to be a chef. They are realizing the potential that I knew they had.
As a parent, what struck me most about Kennedy Krieger was the caring attitude of everyone. So when I had the opportunity to join the Institute as an employee, I wholeheartedly signed on. I am honored to work for the organization that has given my family so much. As an employee, I’ve learned that—regardless of which department you work in—when everyone is devoted to our mission, we can accomplish great things. And regardless of what diagnoses children are given, it is very important that a family hears congratulations on the birth of their child. I know firsthand how much that means.
To learn more about Down syndrome services at Kennedy Krieger Institute, visit the Down Syndrome Clinic and Research Center page.