All God’s Children

Joey Lafleur was in for his four-year well child check yesterday morning, and it was a profound moment in a day that was otherwise more or less a blur of acute visits and urgent phone calls.

Joey seemed different from other babies early on to his previous provider. His doctor was Barbara Brennan, my good friend and colleague, who ended up giving up her career as a doctor because of her own health. Her early office notes, referral letters and the various specialist reports read like a medical mystery novel.

Joey didn’t reach his developmental milestones; his eyes didn’t seem right and he had an unusual, broad grin, which he always flashed. By age two he was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects one in 7,500 newborns.

Joey, in typical fashion for Williams Syndrome children, is extremely gregarious, even with strangers. He is a favorite with the nurses. He isn’t potty trained, cannot make three word sentences, and cannot make age-appropriate drawings.

His parents elected to give him the 4-6 year-old shots yesterday, and he protested loudly. Immediately afterward, he wanted to kiss the nurses.

Yesterday afternoon I saw Marguerite Brown, an eighty-three year old woman with stubborn blood pressure and skin problems. Two months ago she had told me that her daughter, Molly DeLorme, had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. I have been Marguerite’s doctor for ten or fifteen years, and never realized that her daughter was the woman who wallpapered our house a couple of years ago; after all these years practicing in this community I am still finding out that people I have known for years are related to each other.

Last week I had seen Molly’s obituary in the paper. The same issue of our local paper had a little “In Memoriam” piece about a six-year-old patient of mine, who was killed by falling logs several years ago. His parents are still struggling with their loss.

Marguerite Brown was somber, naturally, as I entered the exam room.

“Why did Molly have to die, why couldn’t it have been me?” she asked, rhetorically.

Tonight I answered telephone calls from two of my three adopted children. Both of them are dealing with the consequences of choices they have made in the past. I have wished for a long time that I could have spared them what they are going through right now, but I am wise enough to know that most of us have to learn things for ourselves, and cannot learn from the mistakes of our parents.

I can imagine the heartache of Joey Lafleur’s parents as they imagine what his life will be like, growing up with Williams Syndrome. I can imagine their grief as they think about all the things he will never do.

We must all remember that our children are only loaned to us. We have a natural desire to see them grow up to be healthy and happy, and more often than not I think we hope they will be a lot like us. Our task and privilege as their parents is to see them for who they are, and help them reach their potential.

A youngster with Down’s or Williams Syndrome can be more capable of receiving and returning the love of their parents than a child without genetic challenges, and a healthy child can be killed in a freak accident in the matter of seconds. The wisest parents cannot protect their children from making their own mistakes, and even the elderly often have to grieve the loss of a child.

2 Responses to “All God’s Children”

  1. 1 dragonfly November 5, 2008 at 12:47 pm

    Great post. I often wonder about how much happier are the people who don’t understand what is going on in the world. Some of these children can lead very full lives, if they are lucky enough to have a loving and supportive family.

  2. 2 Feathers November 8, 2008 at 4:54 am

    Really like your blog, the way you write about your life as a Doctor, you show your care and humanity, it comes across very much so.

    Meant to comment before, but have not, again you write here about children, how they they are loaned to us, helping them to reach their potential. You wrote a post about a girl who went on to be a mother and changed considerably, found that especially to be very inspiring, and insightful.

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