Love through a Grandfather's Eyes
A special tale about a special lady on a special occasion
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
As told to by Henry Landin
Published on LatinoLA: May 28, 2010
It's that time of the year where parents & grandparents will see a lifelong hope come true...their kids or grandkids will be graduating from High School..their first step into the real world.
Many of them will also be participating in the time honored American high school tradition of attending their senior prom. Not just an ordinary party, but a formal ball indicating that THEY have made it through this phase of life.
A friend of mine, Henry Landin, another proud brother U.S. Marine Veteran & fellow Grandfather, was telling me how proud he was that his grand daughter, his "special girl", was going to be attending her senior prom next week, then graduating a couple weeks later.
OK...more than a few friends & relatives have shared this happy news with me over the years..describing the worries, the heartaches, the memories of accomplishments, disappointments, victories, losses, struggles, the type of arguments only a teenager can inspire, the goofy moments, and finally, that confirmation that it was all worth it...graduation !
What makes this tale so special, is that my friend Henry's and his wife Lucy's grand daughter has a developmental disability known as Down's Syndrome, and this was NEVER supposed to happen!
Previously referred to as mental retardation and Mongoloidism, this genetic condition affects 1 in every 800-1,000 births around the world. Previously thought to be totally debilitating, and a life sentence to an institution outside of "normal" society, my friends the Landin's, and their special girl Alyssa, have proven this type of thinking ALL wrong!...and I felt this tale should be told.
Born in 1990 at Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills, California, the attending Doctor's first information and advice was that Alyssa had a "crippling" form of mental retardation, would probably never walk, talk, or have any form of "normal" life, and spoke of institutionalization or "another humane option" of adoption to "more qualified personnel"...a deeper heartbreak for first-time grandparents I couldn't describe!
" I'm a Marine...a fighter...the type of guy that doesn't give up against the odds...but we were ignorant about Down's Syndrome, and I found out later SO WAS THE DOCTOR! I didn't know what to do...what to fight...but I wasn't going to give up, so I initially followed the Doctor's advice to see what was next. My wife and I WERE NOT going to abandon our grand daughter", Henry says with a watery eyed smile.
Both Henry and his wife Lucy are cancer survivors, so they know about fighting and not giving up.
The Doctor had ignorantly advised Henry & his family not to tell his daughter Yvonne about Alyssa's condition..and he even advised them NOT to let Yvonne see her daughter, but luckily, a veteran nurse saw the folly in the Doctor's ignorance, and over rode his ill advice, spoke to the family, and brought Yvonne her precious gift of a daughter....and a bond was made!
They were also exposed to valuable resources about Down's Syndrome, and both grandparents scoured the Internet for any and all information, educating themselves, and eventually becoming strong advocates for Down's Syndrome children.
"Now we knew what our fight was going to be. We didn't how, and we didn't know a lot, but we knew we were going to fight for Alyssa, and never give her up!", Lucy says with a proud defiant smile.
Lucy quit her full time job to help care for Alyssa while Yvonne went back to work. "I knew in my heart that my grand daughter was NOT a lost cause, and I was going to prove that Doctor wrong by helping teach Allysa how to walk and talk", Lucy says.
The family fondly recalls her following the special education bus in her car for the first couple of days when Alyssa started school, "Just to make sure they got to where they were supposed to go," she laughs.
Henry retired early to devote more time to his "special girl." "I refused to lock my grand daughter up in an institution," he says, "Life didn't end here, it began a new chapter in my life. Alyssa has taught us so much about life just being here...we've fought for her at almost every turn, even though many tried to discourage us...and our family has grown closer an tighter because of her, and Alyssa has proved so many people wrong by accomplishing what we were told she could not".
Alyssa learned to walk a age 18 months. Her first words "Mom & Dad" came at age 3. She was able to play and interact with others at an early age, and it hasn't stopped since!
The DOCTORS were wrong!...A LOT of people were wrong !
"We've met so many ignorant, arrogant, and stubborn people along the way throughout Alyssa's life," mom Yvonne says. "Especially the so-called experts & authorities. Everybody telling us what Alyssa can and can't do, what type of help we should just settle for, not to get our hopes up, etc. Hey!...we're not unrealistic or overly idealistic here...I know she'll never be a rocket scientist or achieve a Ph.D in college, but that doesn't mean she doesn't deserve a chance at a quality life just because she has a disability. My family and I are going to continue fighting for every right & privilege Alyssa is entitled to...and she will get it, because she's a beautiful human being, and deserves a chance like everybody else!"
Despite being heavily discouraged, and even made to face a board of inquiry to justify themselves, the Landin's were successful in enrolling Alyssa in Chatsworth High School's Community Based Special Education Program, and Alyssa blossomed.
"Everywhere we go, the market, the mall, wherever, local kids see her and cheerfully call out 'Hi, Alyssa!'", Yvonne says, "One of the most popular boys in school even asked to be her partner in an art class project...and Alyssa loved it! That tells me SHE BELONGS HERE, and NOT in some institution!"
"I've been blessed with 2 children and 4 other grandchldren" Grandpa Henry says, " They're all good kids, all successful students...and when I see Alyssa, I don't see ANY disability... I just see another beautiful member of my family. The things she does, the things she says, the pranks she comes up with, even her arguments with us... I laugh and wonder to myself: what disability?"
After being confirmed that she would be graduating from Chatsworth High, the family got together and began talking and making plans like most families do. Alyssa's younger sister had attended her senior prom prior to graduating, and when the issue was brought up, Alyssa suddenly piped up "I want to go!"
"We were were shocked," Granda Henry says. "All her life, I've worried about her, and made efforts to protect her...she's my special princess, after all, and I'm a Marine and her Grandpa...but the prom? Who was going to take her? Who was going to watch out for her? Who would dance with her?"
As if on cue, Henry's grandson Aaron, himself a 16-year-old, handsome, muscular, and popular guy said proudly "I will! I'll take her! I'll be her date!"
...and the matter was settled...
"I might be hiding in the bushes, or sneaking around behind a door watching, and even if she goes for just 15 minutes...my daughter is going to get all dressed up and attend her senior prom with a handsome date...and make some memories!", mother Yvonne says, a tear of happiness coming to her eye. (I almost got watery myself at the end of the interview!)
And so...like a Cinderella fairy tale come true...on Saturday, June 5th, 2010, Alyssa Garcia will be attending her senior prom, and on Thursday, June 17th, she will be graduating from Chatsworth High School.
...and the girl who was never going to talk, never going to walk, and never going to accomplish anything but live out her life in an institution...
...will once again prove a lot of people wrong!!!
Note: Congratulatory e-mails are welcome at: HNLandin@aol.com
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Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme is the Al Capone of the microphone and the Hitman of West Coast Chicano Soul
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