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Okay, maybe more than typically energetic. "He’s a hoot," she says of Gabriel. "He goes non-stop all day – his switch is either on or off. He wakes up happy, goes to bed happy. He’s very bubbly and very expressive. You know exactly what he wants out of life."
He also keeps a high profile. Heather jokes that everyone in their hometown of Fort Smith knows Gabriel. "We get out and do a lot with him," she says. And with three older siblings spanning 21-years, there are always plenty of opportunities for a little brother to tag along. "Gabe is a normal part of the family. He just happens to have an extra chromosome."
Heather, who adopted three of her children from foster care, didn’t meet Gabriel until he was two years old. "I got a call from the Scott County Department of Human Services because they heard I would take children with disabilities. They told me they had a two-year-old with Down syndrome and wanted to know if I would be willing to foster him. I said, 'absolutely.’ He came home on New Year’s Eve 2013 and never left."
In adopting a special needs child with an established medical history, Heather says she found she had a ready-made support team in place at Arkansas Children’s.
"Gabriel’s journey with Arkansas Children’s started the day he was born," she says. "When I went there with him for the first time, they already knew him. They told me things about him that I didn’t know." Heather remembers feeling reassured upon meeting an ENT nurse who recognized Gabe and was able to share how far he’d progressed already. "I lucked out that he had already been a patient there." She appreciates the quality of communication she experiences at Arkansas Children’s, particularly from the , where Gabriel sees . Heather says he’s not only concerned with how his patient is doing, but that she understands, as a parent, what course of treatment he recommends and why.
Since the opening of the , Heather says, hospital visits are far less disruptive to the family’s schedule. "It’s fabulous. Instead of a day-long trip where I have to take an entire day off work and make sure my other son is covered for after-school care, it’s a half-day trip. It’s been life-changing for us."
Heather says Arkansas Children’s is "a fantastic place to be" for kids with Down syndrome and their families. "Put your faith in them, because they know what they’re doing." she says. "They’re there for the children. That’s what they know, that’s what they do, and that’s what they love." She feels good knowing that the Arkansas Children’s team is constantly learning and improving for kids like Gabriel.