Some people have the fortune of being born into families with large support systems. Others discover the joy of family later through the generosity and goodwill of others. For Baby Jisselle and her family, the true extent of the impact of a strong support system came from an unexpected referral to The Warren Center.
Jisselle’s arrival began as a joyous surprise for her family. Her mother, Brenda, explains that while she already had two older children, discovering her pregnancy with Jisselle occurred during a challenging time as she reflected on the loss of her own mother.
“It was hard for me because this was my first pregnancy going through it without my mom,” Brenda explained. “I was going through a hard time emotionally, mentally. And when I found out I was pregnant, I was scared at first, but then I was excited.”
Brenda quickly delved into the excitement and promise of expecting a new baby girl. She quickly began baby shopping and enjoying her prenatal checkups. She chose the name Jisselle (a lovely French word that means “pledge” or “promise”) as all family members happily anticipated the birth.
And by all appearances, the pregnancy went smoothly. Jisselle was born at 39 weeks with no complications and no signs of anything abnormal. After a normal labor and delivery, they were allowed to leave the hospital a few days after the birth, and Brenda felt ecstatic. “She was my first baby girl. I have two older boys. Jisselle was my little girl, and she was a surprise for us. And I didn’t know, but she was what I needed.”
However, Jisselle’s family soon faced the unexpected. During a six-month checkup, the doctor noticed that Jisselle wasn’t holding her head up anymore. Jisselle received a referral to The Warren Center for early childhood intervention (ECI services). This donation-supported program is for children ages birth to three years old. Through the program, The Warren Center assigned an ECI therapist who visited Jisselle’s home and worked through developmental delays. The family saw the impact immediately.
“The therapist became a friend. ECI helped Jisselle so much. She started holding her head up. She started sitting up, which she couldn’t do. She started rolling over,” Brenda said. “The Warren Center helped us so much. I was so scared, I thought she was never going to be able to do any of it.”
Upon the outbreak of COVID-19, Jisselle’s family felt anxiety that the therapist would not be able to come to their house for in-person therapy anymore. However, The Warren Center was able to help Jisselle complete the ECI program through FaceTime. And after ECI, the therapists assured Brenda that Jisselle could still receive services through the clinic program at The Warren Center. Jisselle went on to enroll in occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy.
Occupational therapist, Jenna Zansler, explained that she did the initial assessment for Jisselle online due to COVID-19 lockdown. She then met Jisselle after restrictions lifted and observed Jisselle’s transformation firsthand.
“She was able to start coming into the office for therapy sessions. Initially she was very upset. But then one day it just all turned around, and she was happy and anxious to try everything,” Zansler said. “Never complained and never seemed to tire. It’s been very fun to see her go from someone who wasn’t interested in anything to someone who is desperately interested in everything.”
Within days, Jisselle’s mother noticed the improvements as well. “After COVID eased and we were able to come to therapy at The Warren Center, after only a week I started to see a difference in Jisselle,” she said. “Jisselle started reaching for things, she started moving across the floor] which she had never done. All these therapies she received at The Warren Center have helped her and our family so much.”
Brenda explained that while Jisselle has received tests from neurologists, neurosurgeons, and geneticists, they have not been able to diagnose her. So, the therapists must work with a general assessment of global developmental delays.
The Warren Center rose to the challenge with the use of a TheraSuit (an orthotic suit that provides strength and motor support for children who cannot yet support themselves). It turns out that Jisselle was the perfect candidate for this device to work on her abdominal strength, sitting, standing, and moving efficiently. Jisselle gets excited when she sees the device and knows that it is helping her.
Since Jisselle is non-verbal, The Warren Center also rose to that challenge with the use of a speech-generating device. Timothy Villa, a in-clinic speech-language pathologist at The Warren Center, explained that despite the lack of concrete diagnosis, the team of therapists worked hard to make Jisselle comfortable and increase engagement in her sessions.
“When she first started with us, she had trouble just tolerating the session,” Villa explained. “Her three therapists worked together to make her comfortable. Once we were able to do that, now she’s happy. She leans toward us to get her, she is ready to come in, and she’s happy to be in these sessions.”
With the help of The Warren Center, Jisselle uses her speech-generating device to select multiple activities per session. Her social skills have improved so that she greets people with a wave and understands the normal flow of people entering and leaving the room. She has playfulness and inside jokes toward each therapist, and this loving and cheerful attitude has not gone unnoticed.
“Jisselle is a very happy girl. She is always laughing, and she has a laugh that makes her brothers laugh,” her mother Brenda says. “She brings joy to everyone she sees.”
“I don’t know where my daughter would be without The Warren Center,” Brenda admits. “Everyone here treats us like we’ve known each other forever. And it feels great because I don’t even have that support from family. The Warren Center is pretty much my family, my support group. I don’t have that at home. The Warren Center has helped us be a complete family with Jisselle.”
Equipment like the Therasuit and speech-generating devices are expensive and rarely accessible to the average family. The Warren Center makes extra effort to work through insurance issues that may occur through a parent’s job change or through changes in an insurance policy.
Zansler explains, “What’s great about working at The Warren Center is that we do what’s best for children and families. We were able to work with Jisselle while working through insurance issues. There is no reason for a child not to receive therapy; but anywhere else, she might have been put on hold. But here, we were able to see her immediately. The donations you give help us provide those services for kids who really need the help.”
As Jisselle continues to thrive, her mother urges that any donation can produce the outcome of changing a child’s life forever. “There are many families like us who are not able to get therapy and they don’t know about The Warren Center. These donations go a long way with all the equipment and all the hours that the therapists put in at The Warren Center.”
Along with operating as a support system, the organization’s services have transformed the family’s belief system. Brenda now feels confident of what her daughter will achieve. “The Warren Center has given me a lot of hope. I look forward to seeing Jisselle do all the things I know she will eventually do.”