Agonizing over childcare decisions is a rite of passage for many parents. But for parents of children with medically complex needs, the search for reliable day care options can be especially daunting.
Crestwood residents Paul and Melanie Brunsdon were two such parents. Their 2-year-old twin boys, Graham and Cade, were both diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy and a grade IV brain bleed shortly after birth in July 2015. The identical diagnoses were the result of a collapsed lung suffered by both boys following birth at just 25 weeks gestation and left the boys with feeding tubes, brain shunts and uncertain futures.
After almost four months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital, Graham and Cade went home on October 28— just two weeks after their initial due date. Doctors warned the Brunsdons that the boys would likely never walk. Meeting milestones such as speaking, or eating without the assistance of a feeding tube, was not guaranteed.
“I was looking forward to seeing them be active little boys, but we just didn’t know,” said Melanie. “But the NICU nurses told me you don’t ever underestimate these kids.”
Facing the challenge at home
The couple held on to that hope as they adjusted to their lives back at home. The boys’ condition prevented them from attending a traditional day care center, because the majority of traditional centers are not designed to care for children with very complex medical needs. Thus, Paul, a sales representative, stayed home during the day with the boys and their big sister Millie, then 18 months old. He completed his work in the evening, while Melanie returned to her job in the athletic department at Bellarmine University.
The situation was far from ideal. The couple was exhausted, and quality time as a family was scarce. Millie began to fall behind in her speech, and as the months wore on, the Brunsdons felt that Graham and Cade needed to be exposed to more typically developing children to be inspired to reach their full potential.
“My biggest feeling at that time was that we were shortchanging them all,” said Paul. ‘We needed to find something that was going to be healthy for all of us.”
The Brunsdons enrolled Millie in First Steps, a statewide early intervention program for young children, to address her speech delays. It was Millie’s therapists who encouraged the Brunsdons to consider Sproutlings Pediatric Day Care & Preschool at the Kosair Charities Center, located at Masonic Homes Kentucky’s Louisville Campus.
New hope with Sproutlings
About one third of the 120 children enrolled at Sproutlings have medical diagnoses including spina bifida, Down syndrome, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and others. Each classroom is staffed with a teacher, teacher’s aide, nurse and certified nursing assistant to ensure that the children’s needs—both educational and medical—are met.
While Paul and Melanie recalled seeing fliers for the center while in the NICU, they assumed at the time that Sproutlings would be out of their reach financially. But after a little more research, they realized that Sproutlings would indeed be the answer to their prayers.
“There’s no other center that could have done for us what Sproutlings has done,” said Paul. “We ended up kicking ourselves for not pursuing it sooner.”
Paul, whose father and brother are very involved with the Masons in his native Canada, said Sproutings’ affiliation with Masonic Homes gave him an added layer of confidence in the center.
“It was extra comforting knowing that Sproutlings was tied to an organization as great as the Masons,” said Paul.
Graham and Cade enrolled in early Spring 2017, and almost immediately the Brunsdons saw the boys flourish. They developed their own unique personalities and began reaching milestones that once seemed improbable, if not impossible. Graham is affectionately known as “the Mayor” because of his outgoing, charismatic personality. Cade is more reserved but already impresses his parents by counting to 10—in Spanish.
The boys have also begun to eat some meals without the help of feeding tubes and can move around as fast as any toddler with the assistance of gait trainers, devices that provide support and help facilitate a walking position. Both are expected to begin walking independently this summer.
“When we first came home with them, we were looking at how to retrofit the house to accommodate wheelchairs,” said Paul. “We are so far past that now. The worst-case scenario is long gone.”
Because Sproutlings has onsite medical personnel, Paul and Melanie feel safe in the knowledge that the boys will receive the care they need in case of an emergency. Paul recounted a recent incident in which Sproutlings staff noticed that Graham wasn’t his usual outgoing self and seemed to be suffering a headache. They called the Brunsdons who took him to the hospital and learned that his shunt, which remains in place to alleviate pressure on the brain, wasn’t functioning properly.
“At Sproutlings, they catch that stuff because they are so plugged in and have this broad experience,” said Paul. “These people care so much about our kids that we can leave them in their hands. That peace of mind is incredible. Not just that we have someone that can care for the kids, but that we can trust that they will.”
“They know the boys, and they know what to look for,” said Melanie. “Sproutlings is our lifeline.”
‘God put us here’
Back at the Brunsdon home, evenings are once again for family time. Millie has blossomed now that she has more of her parents’ attention, Paul noted.
In some ways, Melanie feels as though their journey to Sproutlings began back in 2013 when she and Paul relocated to Louisville from Illinois so she could accept her position at Bellarmine University. Just two days after starting her new job, Melanie learned she was expecting Millie. While initially, it seemed like terrible timing to move so far from loved ones when growing their family, Melanie now sees that living elsewhere would likely mean that they wouldn’t have access to a center like Sproutlings, which is the only one of its kind in the region.
“God put us here,” said Melanie. “I truly believe that. God puts you in places and you don’t always know why. But we were meant to follow this path so the boys could be here.
Check out A Collaborative Approach for more information about Sproutlings Pediatric Day Care and Preschool.