Thursday, October 28, 2010

Coffee with my hero

Today the boys and I had coffee with a woman who is a personal hero of mine. Her name is Debora and, like me, she is a pediatric occupational therapist. In 1981, she began treating a set of one year old future son Marcus and his twin brother.

In spite of a slightly premature birth, the babies were generally on target developmentally. They were social and explored their environment. But over the course of the following year, Debora became concerned that the boys were showing signs of ever increasing emotional disturbance. They started to avoid eye contact, cried a lot and could not be consoled, banged their heads on the floor, crawled into corners to hide their faces. They often had bruises in the shape of a hand or of a hair pick. When they were about 15 months old, Marcus had a broken arm, and a month later, his brother had a broken leg.

Debora meticulously documented the disturbed behaviors and contacted Child Protective Services about her concerns. She described the increasing signs of emotional disturbance and ended her letter with the statement: "I seriously fear for the safety of these boys." But CPS left the boys in their mother's home.

A few months later, the mother brought Marcus to the emergency room. He was semi-comatose with a severe brain injury. He had detached retinas from being shaken. He had 3 broken out teeth and a wound on his forehead, indicating that he had been thrown against a wall or floor. He had second and third degree burns on his feet, legs, and buttocks from being placed in hot water, that appeared to be a couple of weeks old. Debora, of course, was heartbroken that her prediction had come to pass.

She knew that Marcus' emotional recovery would be as important as his physical rehabilitation. She hung a blue, handwritten sign on Marcus' hospital crib, with instructions to the nurses:

Her treatment had a vital role in Marcus' healing. After the injuries, he was regressed back to the developmental level of an infant. In a sense, he got to start over, to be re-parented with the kind, loving touch and words and rocking that he had never known.

After I adopted him, he had explosive behaviors and signs of PTSD for many years, but, over time, he resolved these problems. He grew into a kind, generous, helpful person. I give Debora the credit for starting the healing process.

I never met her in person, but for many years we exchanged Christmas cards, and I kept her updated on Marcus' progress. But we sort of lost touch a number of years ago. Last weekend, I suddenly remembered that Debora had been an occupational therapy professor in St. Louis the last I had heard from her. I googled her and discovered that she teaches at St. Louis University, only a couple of blocks from our house! I emailed her and we planned to meet.

So today we met at a little coffee shop at SLU. This was the first time Debora and Marcus had seen each other since Marcus was 2. It was a very sweet reunion. I have always considered her a hero, for trying to save Marcus and for starting him on the path to emotional healing.