When he was only an infant, Joey was placed in a hospital setting, as he was medically fragile. He ended up spending the first six years of his life within those walls. Joey was born with a genetic disorder called DiGeorge Syndrome. In Joey’s case, this disorder presented with a missing heart valve at birth, a poorly functioning immune system, low muscle tone, and other health issues; he was a very sick baby.
At the hospital, Joey had a special education teacher, Debbie, who developed a meaningful relationship with Joey. At the time, Debbie was told by professionals all the things he couldn’t do; walk, talk, or have his trachea removed. Debbie’s response was to say, “why not?” With no clear answer, Debbie advocated for Joey with his therapists, “bothered” physical therapists to help him learn to walk, consulted with speech therapists to get his trachea removed, helped him learn to eat by mouth, and even bought him toys for his room.
A Life-Long Connection
With Debbie’s love and connection, Joey began to blossom. In 2008, Joey was well enough to leave the hospital setting and Debbie decided to become his foster mother.
In May 2009, seven-years-old Joey entered the Bridges to Health program at AHRC New York City. Joey’s diagnoses include Autism, Congenital Heart Disease, DiGeorge Syndrome, and asthma. He is also non-verbal due to severe Apraxia of speech, which is a motor speech disorder. Samantha Holloway was assigned to support him three days a week in his home. When Samantha met Joey, he was only able to communicate using a few basic signs. He seemed shy and did not make eye contact with people he didn’t know. Samantha quickly noted how intelligent Joey was and how much potential his future could hold. She worked with his family to establish communication, socialization, and self-care goals. Little did she know that she would remain supporting Joey and his family for almost six years.
Joey’s Progress Continues
In 2011, Joey was officially adopted by Debbie and he continues to blossom. Today, Joey is 13 and his progress is astounding. He loves going to Barnes and Noble, the movies, riding the subway, using the computer, and recording his favorite experiences. He enjoys expressing himself through his iPad especially to tell mom he loves her before he leaves the apartment or what he prefers to do for the day. Samantha and Joey spend their time doing yoga, socializing, and spending time in his community. They also explore Joey’s sense of identity and interests by going to museums and the bowling alley. He walks independently and now makes eye contact with people he engages with. We have every reason to believe that he will soon be independently making friends and holding conversations in his community.
Joey’s story serves as a reminder of the power of supportive service, as well as how meaningful relationships with family and staff can impact a person’s life for the better. At our program we have realized the impact of working and planning with families in their own homes and communities. We have learned that prognosis and past experiences do not define a person or their future. We believe in turning can’t into can. We have made it our goal to help our children and their families thrive and lead fulfilling lives no matter what their past has been.
About Bridges to Health
Kids in our Bridges to Health Program have lives, journeys, and needs that are very unique. Most of our kids have faced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which makes building and maintaining healthy, meaningful relationships with adults a crucial part of their success. At Bridges to Health, we take the unique needs of our kids into consideration every step of the way. Our staff are not only providing day habilitation, but they are also letting each child know that they can rely on, trust, feel fulfilled, and get support from the people in their life.