Dr. Lela Brink is a pediatrician at Geisinger Medical Group and has worked with many families and children living with the realities of Down syndrome.
In many cases, she is the first resource parents have at their disposal to better understand the journey ahead of them.
In advance of the Centre County Down Syndrome Society’s Buddy Walk on Oct. 15 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, Brink shared some of the knowledge and experiences she has accumulated from working with a variety of patients throughout the years.
Q: What drew you to pediatrics?
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A: I was drawn to pediatrics because I enjoy working with children and I love the practice of medicine. Children have no pre-existing assumptions about illness or wellness, and it is fun to take care of them. I enjoy working with families and parents and helping them understand normal children’s growth and development and helping them through times of stress and illness.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the job?
A: I love helping families enjoy their children, even when that involves caring for their special needs and disabilities.
Q: How many years have you spent working with children who have Down syndrome?
A: I have been in pediatrics for 38 years and have taken care of many children with Down syndrome during that time. I grew up with a neighborhood child with Down syndrome, and even 50 years ago that family had her integrated into the neighborhood events. I frequently would go along to help when she went to programs for other special needs children.
Q: What’s the most important thing that you have learned in that time?
A: That care for children with Down syndrome is really not much different than care for every other child. Families should learn to love their children, celebrate their strengths and work together on their challenges. I think it is easy to care for a young child with Down syndrome for this reason. The harder issues to help families deal with are how to help them when they grow up. Conversations on how to deal with decisions about independent or group living as adolescents, work and work environment, post-public school education and training and how to plan for the care of special needs children when the parents cannot care for them any longer, are the most difficult discussions.
Q: What are some of the other resources available in the community for families or children with Down syndrome?
A: There are many resources now for special needs children including those with Down’s. In infancy to age 3, Early Intervention Services; age 3 and older, the Central Intermediate Unit provides support services for children with Downsyndrome; and there is therapeutic horseback riding, Special Olympics, sports programs for baseball and many other sports. There are speech and language support programs. Medical care for Down syndrome children who have concurrent medical problems often can be done by pediatric cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology and endocrine specialists who come to town for outreach clinics from Geisinger at Danville and from Hershey. Down syndrome-specific clinics exist at many medical centers to answer developmental questions and make sure that all of the special medical needs of these children are being followed.
Q: What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about Down syndrome?
A: I think people think all children with Down are the same. There is a wide spectrum of abilities in this population just as there is in the general population. People seem to focus on the disabilities and differences of children with Down syndrome, rather than their abilities and similarities. Focusing on what they can do and helping them in areas where they need help gives them the ability to grow and develop each child to their own maximum potential.
Q: Why are events like the Buddy Walk important in a community?
A: I think it shows the abilities of those with Down syndrome that participate, the closeness of the families, the mutual support in the Down syndrome community and it gives the children’s friends and family friends the opportunity to come out and show their support for these very special children.
IF YOU GO
What: Buddy Walk
When: 10 a.m. Oct. 15
Where: Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, University Park
Info: ccdss.donordrive.com/index.cfm?fuseaction= donorDrive.event& eventID=502