To the Physical Therapist Who Told Me the First Good Thing About Our Son


Our son, Adam, was born on August 29, 2003, after a violently thunderous night in Erlangen in the south of Germany.

We were there for my husband’s post-graduate study and didn’t yet know much German or many people in our local community. I’d been a neonatal intensive care nurse, so I knew how to handle babies and also expected an uncomplicated birth for ourselves.

We had anything but! Just three days after his three-weeks-early home birth, our son became ill with an infection from his umbilical cord. He was in the hospital for 13 days and nearly didn’t make it. I was with him night and day, and on one jaunt to yet another X-ray, I noticed the words in his chart: “Verdacht Trisomy 21” (Suspected Trisomy 21).

What? This was one thing I certainly hadn’t seen coming.

Suddenly our world changed, and the crisis we were going through took on a whole new meaning. I knew what this meant, though I’d only ever seen one baby born with Down syndrome during my five years in London. What were we in for now?

Well, bad news upon bad news it seemed. Doctors had only gloomy predictions for us, such as, “You know he’ll never go to normal school, don’t you?” They all looked at Adam and me with pity in their eyes, if they even looked at us at all. I received no support, no help, no communication of any encouraging kind. Until Adam was referred to a physiotherapist in Erlangen named Heike Holz.

On our first visit to Heike, I remember her greeting us kindly. I remember how calm she seemed. She wasn’t staring or full of pity. She took us into a room, and I remember her asking me to put Adam on his back on the table. Most of the conversation was in German, which I was finally just reaching a passable level in because of the stress of Adam’s birth. But I clearly remember taking in that she encouraged me. She said he was doing well, bringing his arms up to the midpoint, and so on.

He was doing well.

She clearly said those words, and shock waves roared through my heart when I absorbed them as the first positive words anyone had yet said about Adam. He could do well! He might yet do well in life! Suddenly, nothing was as gloomy as it had been just before that appointment.

I believe the moment our physiotherapist gave me positive words to associate with the diagnosis, the syndrome, the problem that was my son, that moment was the first true light in a dark tunnel. And we’ve kept on, we’ve come so far and Adam himself is a light to many people now. He’s who he’s supposed to be, and I’m so grateful to Heike for recognizing it and voicing it to a suffering mother all those years ago. She gave me strength and hope, she was a balm to my soul after so much heartache from a medical and social system that just didn’t accept our difference.

Adam can do a lot now, Heike. I’m glad you could see it too.

Thank you.

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