A Thai surrogate mother was left with an Australian couple’s baby when they found the child had Down syndrome, sparking interest in the condition. She had twins in December, but the couple only took the baby girl, leaving the boy with Down syndrome, Gammy, with her. Now the mother has gone public since Gammy is in the hospital with an infection in his lungs and has a congenital heart condition. The agency told her to get an abortion when tests showed there were abnormalities in her seventh month. She believed abortion would be sinful and responded, “Are you still humans? I really wanted to know.”
Australia is looking into granting Gammy Australian citizenship, which would make him eligible for free medical care. Pavena Hongsakul, a Thai advocate for women’s and children’s rights, stated, “This (surrogacy) is a worrying trend as it can lead to other problems, such as human trafficking.” Since the Thai surrogate mother went public, interest in Down syndrome has been sparked worldwide.
Michelle Sie Whitten, co-founder of Global Down Syndrome Foundation, has made it her mission to advocate and educate people to change the ignorance and fear. When amniocentesis showed the genetic disorder during her pregnancy, the counselor handed her a tissue and told her 80 to 90 percent of people terminate when they got the news and she could too. Now her daughter, Sophia, plays beautiful music on the piano, loves swimming and her friends at school and as her mother says, “has a pretty good darn life.” Michelle describes her as “differently abled.”
Down syndrome is the most common genetic disorder and cause of lifelong learning disabilities and developmental delays in children according to the National Down Syndrome Society. Children with Down syndrome may not live long and are often bullied or ridiculed due to misunderstanding of the condition. About one-third, if not 40 percent of Down syndrome patients are hypothyroid and it is not unusual for them to have small head circumference. Characteristics include upward-slanting eyes, a flatish nose, and short, stubby hands. The ears and teeth may be small or abnormally shaped. Down syndrome may be accompanied by heart disorders, poor vision or respiratory problems.
Down syndrome is the result of an abnormality in the number of chromosomes, the parts of the cell carrying genes, which determine hereditary traits. Usually people have 46 chromosomes, but a person with Down syndrome has 47. The condition happens on average in one out of every 1,000 births, to people of all nationalities and backgrounds. The risk of having a child with Down syndrome greatly increases after a woman reaches 45.
Now it is known that early intervention, a systematic program of exercises and therapy, greatly benefits children with Down syndrome. This commonly includes physical therapy, speech and language therapy, as well as occupational therapy. This aids in gross and fine motor skills, social development, language skills and self-help abilities. It takes them longer, but children with Down syndrome can achieve all the milestones. For example, a typical infant crawls between six to 12 months, while a Down syndrome baby might be between eight to 22 months. The U.S. federal law, Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), mandates that schools provide a free, appropriate public education for children with disabilities starting at age three.
Children with Down syndrome are often friendly and loving, bringing joy to others around them. The Thai surrogate mother says she is interested in Gammy and not bothered by the Down syndrome, saying, “I chose to have him, I love him.” She is concerned about his twin sister saying, “I want to see that they love the baby girl as much as my family loves Gammy.” Briana Kei Maxino, Asia’s envoy to the Special Olympics Global Youth Activation Summit, graduated class valedictorian in a regular high school. Her father explains this shows us disability is not a reason not to achieve as long as a person has the capacity to dream.
By Laurie Stilwell