Something Special :: A Tribute to the Therapists Who Care for My Son


My alma mater, Western Michigan University, is known for several great health and human services programs. The school produces an abundance of successfully employed occupational, speech, and physical therapists. While in school, I stayed on the liberal arts side of campus and avoided science as much as possible. While my OT friends studied physiology, I halfheartedly wrote paper after paper to get my English degree. My health science friends began their clinical work and told me stories about the populations they worked with. Several friends worked with geriatric patients or children with a variety of special needs. I judged from afar and decided that kind of work was not for me. As my husband knows all too well, when I decide something is not for me, I typically do not change my mind.

I had also decided long ago that I would live in Chicago (my hometown) for the rest of my life and maybe be fortunate enough to adopt a child one day with a boyfriend of some kind. I wasn’t sold on the idea of marriage or having a biological child. But here I am today, happily married and living in Birmingham with my 5-month-old son.

Unexpected Changes

And five months ago, my life changed in more than one way. I became a mom to a child with a special need. I quickly thought back to my friends in college and envied their expertise. I had stayed away from those healthcare-type professions and felt confident in that decision. But the moment a doctor told me my son would be having open-heart surgery at 6 days old, I wanted to shake my 19-year-old college freshman self and start my degree all over. The cardiologists explained how developmental delays and feeding troubles would plague my son Parker. The feeding troubles have contributed greatly to the total 59 days we have been in and out of Children’s of Alabama. While my husband and I tried to comprehend what this life-threatening condition meant for Parker, we ignored his current state. As we sat hand in hand in our son’s hospital room crying from fear, our son laid sedentary, fighting the cloud of heavy sedatives.

As Parker began to recover from surgery and became more active, he was finally allowed to eat. The first time we could feed Parker, a speech therapist stood by our side to teach us how to safely feed our beloved “heart baby.” As days passed we settled into a routine with our healthcare team. Our occupational therapist began teaching us about head control and spent time each day telling us how to best help Parker. We also looked forward to Parker’s daily session with his sweet physical therapist who encouraged Parker to interact with his hands and taught us how to play with our son. The fear we had quickly began to fade. We became engaged in his current health and put our thoughts about the future on the back burner. We were inspired by our therapists’ positivity and words of affirmation. I never knew how much I needed this kind of support. The professions I quickly discounted in college have become such an integral part of my livelihood.

Parker’s Progress

After a few post-operation complications, Parker is doing much better. He is receiving in-home early intervention services with an occupational therapist. He also attends class at The Bell Center in Homewood. At The Bell Center he sees a variety of therapists who support his development. We have had amazing doctors and nurses support us while inpatient or during visits, but these specialized therapists have kept us afloat.

There are days my husband and I get frustrated. Sometimes we don’t understand when or how our son will accomplish certain milestones. But we simply ask our son’s therapists and they guide us through a comprehensive treatment plan. When we feel lost, they guide us to the clarity we so desperately need. We know they are our son’s therapists, but they truly take a family approach with his care. Before Parker was born I looked forward to joining the community of moms in Birmingham. However, I never imagined that we would be joining a community within that community that embraced us with such grace. Our son’s special need has truly made us feel nothing but special. His therapists have a lot to do with that experience.

April is Occupational Therapy Month, and our family would like to express sincere gratitude for this profession and similar types of therapies. While my husband and I wouldn’t trade in our matching English degrees for a health science degree of some kind, we wish we had shown more support to those students committing their lives to families like ours. Birmingham provides endless resources for Parker and children with special needs. It is our intent to fully appreciate and support this community.