By Kurt Kondrich, M.Ed Developmental Therapist
Can I hold my daughter please? My wife Margie delivered our daughter Chloe on May 16th, 2003, and I knew there was something wrong in the doctor’s look and voice. Chloe aspirated during her entry into the world, and as they cleared her lungs I was relieved to hear a loud cry. Three years into my career as a police officer I had delivered a baby on a sidewalk, and I knew how important it was to hear that crying sound. The doctor approached us and stated in a very sterile, clinical voice that our daughter had characteristics of Down syndrome.I did not know much about this diagnosis, but I said to the masked physician, “Can I hold my daughter, please?” to which he responded, “You want to hold her?” I detected a surprise in his voice, but Chloe looked right into my eyes and I instantly fell in love with her.
If Chloe had been born in 1963 (my birth year) she would have been labeled uneducable, probably placed in an institution, and would have had a shortened life of exclusion. Thanks to the strong foundation provided by Early Intervention, along with a focus on abilities, today Chloe is thriving and excelling in her community, school, church, and family.
When we brought Chloe home from the hospital after her birth we immediately began focusing on what supports and services she would need to have a great start. An awesome team of Early Intervention therapists, along with my wife Margie and son Nolan, who was 4 at the time, worked tirelessly and passionately to make sure Chloe had the best possible foundation for life. Margie and Nolan even taught Chloe to read at age 3, and now at age 11 she reads at the level of her peers. I was so amazed by the abilities of this little girl and the effectiveness of Early Intervention that I left my 20-year law enforcement career and went back to school to receive my Masters in Early Intervention. I now work full-time as a Developmental Therapist for TEIS Early Intervention and I Chair the Pennsylvania Governor’s Advisory Council for Early Intervention.
Early on as a family we made sure Chloe was included in everything we did and could have as many experiences as possible. Her exposure to a multitude of community outings and family events greatly increased her social and communication skills, and she is now very comfortable in any type of venue. Chloe participated in a playgroup at 18 months, and attended her neighborhood preschool at age 3. The results were amazing, and Chloe currently attends 6th grade at her neighborhood middle school with typical peers. Chloe plays baseball, takes dance lessons, loves Frisbee, attends concerts and sporting events, and she has planted more positive seeds in 11 years than most people do in a lifetime. Chloe has been in magazines, books, newspapers, and numerous media articles, and she has been featured in 2 episodes of the national TV series, “Facing Life Head On” one of which was nominated for a regional Emmy Award.
After I became an Early Intervention professional I realized it was essential for policymakers to learn how critical these supports and services are and to see how priceless this early investment is for children and families. As a parent I made it my mission to educate elected officials about Early Intervention, and I quickly realized the incredible impact the family voice can make. Chloe has met countless legislators and shown them her abilities, and her advocacy has made Early Intervention a top bi-partisan priority in Pennsylvania. In 2014 Chloe even had an education law named after her. “Chloe’s Law” will ensure that positive, supportive information like Early Intervention is given to families who receive a Down syndrome prenatal diagnosis. Chloe signed the law at the PA Capitol, and it was an amazing visual of the impact one small voice can make.
People ask me what it is like to change careers so drastically, and I respond that I really have not changed my work focus at all. My mission is the same as during my days as a police officer: “To Serve and Protect.”
Chloe signing “Chloe’s Law” at the PA Capitol – PRICELESS!