Telethon of Stars: Your pledges make a difference for kids like Abigail

It’s time again for the Telethon of Stars. Your pledges help important organizations in our region, and the people those organizations serve.

That includes toddler Abigail, who gets critical support from UT Martin’s Infant Stimulation. The program has helped children dealing with diagnosed conditions and developmental delays reach their highest potential since the 1970’s. Now, more than ever, they need help to keep providing families like Abigail’s with this crucial support system.

Don’t let little Abigail fool you.

“She’s a dynamite,” her mom, Ashley Staples, said.

Her momentum is explosive, despite obstacles. Abigail was born with a cleft palate, mild cerebral palsy and Pierre Robin syndrome.

“Causing breathing problems, and swallowing issues,” Ashley told me. “She’s still a high risk aspiration.”

Her mom knew a tough road was ahead, but they’ve got help.

“Guide through her elbow, she can control her hands, but you can also help control,” Shanna Via, Early Interventionist with UT Martin Infant Stimulation, explains to Ashley at a home visit.

Shanna’s job is to come into the home and give this family the tools to help Abigail thrive in a natural environment. It’s not easy, but it’s so worth it when you see results and success in kids like Abigail.

“Oh, I love it,” Shanna said. “I wouldn’t be doing anything else. I love this job.”

When Shanna started working with Abigail, she couldn’t even roll over.

“And look, six months later we get her, we got her working on walking,” Shanna explained.

When Director of Child and Family Grant Programs Sharon Waterfield was an interventionist, she says working with mom and baby didn’t happen.

“She would leave the room, or father would leave the room, and it’d be me and the baby,” Sharon said. “Now, the family’s right there.”

It’s a positive change coupled with a negative one. Funding for physical and speech therapy was cut this past Spring. The play room at the center became a storage room. The therapists were let go.

“That really hurts because our families then have to travel maybe an hour, two hours away to get therapy,” Sharon said.

That’s not always financially possible for families like Abigail’s, which means making hard choices.

“If we can’t get our child to where they have to be, then we may, our child just may have to go without,” Sharon said of the choice families in this situation may face. “And we know that’s gonna’ slow down development.”

That’s not an option, because slow just isn’t a word in Abigail’s vocabulary. Play, however, is. So much of her success, says Ashley, is thanks to this program and Shanna.

“She has helped out a lot, because I mean, she has given me so many tips,” Ashley said.

“We’re all working together, will produce results,” Shanna added.

Sharon says they plan to use the money they get from the Telethon this year to once again launch the therapy program.

The 58th Lions Club/WPSD Telethon of Stars kicks off Saturday November 8 at 10 p.m. It runs through Sunday at 1 p.m.

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