Buddy Walk benefit singing set for Oct. 12

By Greg Miller

Lynn Valley Baptist Church will host a benefit singing for the Upper East Tennessee Buddy Walk on Saturday, Oct. 12, from 7-9 p.m. Special music will be offered by Greater Heights and other groups.
   Funds raised through the Buddy Walk will be used both in the Tri-Cities and nationwide for education, research and advocacy for persons with Down Syndrome.
   According to information from the National Down Syndrome Society, the purpose of the Buddy Walk is to celebrate October as "National Down Syndrome Awareness Month" and to promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with Down Syndrome.
   The biggest significance of the Buddy Walk, according to Martha Hardin, is "to make people aware that there are people in this area who do have children with Down Syndrome. The Buddy Walk also helps the National Down Syndrome organization to learn more about it. We have come so far from 20 years ago. Twenty years ago, they put these people in institutions and labeled them as retarded. They have now grown to where they are mainstreaming almost all the students with Down Syndrome."
   Jordan Hardin, Martha's 20-month-old son, was born about seven weeks prematurely and weighed just 4-1/2 pounds. Jordan was born with Down Syndrome, but his mother is determined that he will experience a successful life.
   In addition to being diagnosed with Down Syndrome at birth, Jordan was born with other physical problems. "He had VSD, he had two open holes in his heart," said Martha, who was 42 years old when Jordan was born.
   "He was going to have to have surgery again at six months old. When we went back for the ultrasound on his heart, both holes had closed. That was just a miracle in itself, because the doctor was not expecting that. He already had surgery scheduled at Duke University Medical Center, Winston-Salem, N.C. He is still under the care of the heart specialist, but they feel like he is functioning and doing just fine.
   "He was also diagnosed with seizures. It is common for Down's children to have seizures. He is on medication for that. He also has a lot of upper respiratory problems. His bronchial tubes are so much smaller than normal, and he has been in the hospital with pneumonia, because any common cold or any kind of virus goes right to his lungs. He is on a breathing machine that we use as needed, and he has as many as seven or eight breathing treatments a day."
   Two of Jordan's toes are joined together, and his eyes are slightly slanted, both characteristics of Down Syndrome, according to Martha. "He also has a thyroid problem," Martha said. "He has a low thyroid. It doesn't produce enough. That's part of his problem with his low muscle tone as well as being physically tired a lot. He takes what is called 'Synthroid,' which is to build his thyroid back up."
   Jordan, who is beginning to learn sign language, has not yet begun to speak. "It's very common for the Down's children not to talk until they are at least three or four years old," Martha said.
   Jordan is attending physical therapy sessions to improve his gross motor skills. "That's where he's learning to walk," Martha said. "He had to learn to crawl. He is on his hands and knees crawling, and he is cruising around. In all of these things, a Down's child will run anywhere from six to 12 months behind a normal child."
   In his gross motor skills, Jordan is currently progressing at a 12-15 month level, according to Martha. "In his social skills, he is developing at 15 to 18 months," she said. "He's very close to his age level."
   Martha says her son is attending occupational therapy sessions to help with a feeding problem. Because the tongues of many children with Down Syndrome are larger than the tongues of other children, "they don't eat well, they don't nurse well, and they don't bottle feed well. They have to learn these skills. I was fortunate with Jordan. He was able to take his bottle without a problem. However, with feeding he's having a problem chewing his food. He doesn't want to work those muscles in his jaw. The occupational therapist works with his feeding skills, as well as his fine motor skills with his fingers. At 20 months, Jordan is just learning to pick up a Cheerio and eat it himself."
   Martha says Jordan was placed in an early intervention program shortly after his birth. "Early Intervention told me about all these therapies and told me where I needed to go and what I needed to do," she said. "When you have a child with Down's and you don't know anything about it, you have to rely on people who do know. Early Intervention has been a major asset."
   Jordan's three older brothers -- Steven, 22, T.J., 19, and Ben, 14 - are positive influences on Jordan, Martha said. Steven and T.J., students at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, "are his best motivators. They want Jordan to be pushed. They don't have a problem with saying that their brother has Down's. Ben helps very much. He's a big factor. They all push him. They motivate him."
   Martha's ultimate hope for Jordan "is that developmentally he stays on the track that he is on and that he develops to the best of his ability. I hope that he will be able to mainstream in school and live a normal life, go to college, graduate and then have a job."
   An area support group will soon be networking to help parents with Down Syndrome children to be aware of all available resources.
   The Tri-Cities second annual Buddy Walk will be held on Saturday, Oct. 19, on the grounds of the VA Medical Center. Registration will begin at 9 a.m., and the walk will start at 10 a.m. The walk will be followed by refreshments and festivities.
   To contribute to the Buddy Walk, checks should be made payable to "Upper East Tennessee Buddy Walk," and mailed to SunTrust Bank, c/o Buddy Walk, Attention, Liz Bellamy, 207 Mockingbird Lane, Johnson City, TN 37604.
   For more information, call 542-4158 or e-mail uppereasttnbuddywalk@yahoo.com.