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Our Daughter has Cerebral Palsy

Richard and Jenine Merritt’s second pregnancy occurred pretty much like her first one with their son Jack, fairly easy except for the occasional twinge and discomfort. At the hospital when Mia was born, they happily counted ten fingers and ten toes on her perfect cherubic body. At home, Mia, although small, seemed to be doing fine, except she was a little slow in her development. The doctors who examined her couldn’t find anything wrong, and when Mia was one year old, they thought physical therapy might help her progress. It wasn’t until five months later that she was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, an incurable neurological condition that affects four out of every thousand babies born in the United States. An MRI revealed that Mia had suffered a stroke while in the womb, somewhere between the 2nd and 7th month and this had caused the brain damage.

Richard and Jenine were devastated. More than that, they were terrified. And angry. How did this happen? What did it mean? Would Mia ever walk or talk? What would Jack think? How would they cope? It didn’t seem possible. Their lives had taken an irreversible turn down an unknown road with an unknown end.

The diagnosis led Mia to a host of different therapies: occupational, speech, physical, and enrollment in a special needs program at the county pre-k school. The family struggled to deal with the daily demands. Jenine cut back on her practice as a veterinarian and Richard experienced frustration and guilt when his position as an attorney often kept him from being more available to help. More importantly, they struggled emotionally. For them, the most frustrating aspect came from realizing they had no way of knowing what the future held for Mia. At times, without warning, they would both break down crying, feeling anger, frustration and desperation. They needed help. Jenine met with her Priest who helped her understand that Mia’s disability would make them better people in the long run. He told her that they needed to take each day one at a time and celebrate each success.

The Priest was right. Rich and Jenine realized that Mia wasn’t the least bit disturbed by her disability. It didn’t matter to her that she couldn’t run and play with other children. It only bothered her parents. No matter where they were, Mia was completely sociable and seemingly unhindered. In fact, it soon became clear to them that Mia was a totally normal little girl trapped inside a defective body and it didn’t bother her at all.

This new perspective made everyone’s life easier. Jack attends therapy sessions with Mia and helps her continue them at home. His confidence in Mia has increased her confidence and she is progressing faster than everyone hoped. Each day is a celebration, each day is a success.

For the Merritt family, this has been a journey of enlightenment. While there have been numerous unexpected consequences, such as having to make the house a safety zone for Mia and Jenine suffering a herniated disk from carrying around the heavy walker, for the most part, these are viewed as minor irritations. They now find true joy as a family working together helping Mia just as she has helped them become better people. As Jack said, “She’s such a good sister.”

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