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Local women off to Ukraine to help special-needs kids

March 22, 2006, 0:00 5669 Author: Tonya McKiever Staff Writer Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

BENTONVILLE — Amanda and Jimmie Clark are the parents of three special-needs children adopted from a Ukranian orphanage. Each child — boys, Leks and Dima, and girl Lena — have cerebral palsy.

First, they brought the boys home. When they learned Lena’s adoption by another family fell through, Amanda and Jimmie returned to Ukraine to bring Lena home. Because she has watched her children make such terrific progress through the physical therapy they’ve received, Amanda is headed back overseas to help the kids still in the orphanage and a nearby institution. Traveling with Amanda are Kym Hannah and Karen Hairston. Both women are physical therapists at Children’s Therapy Services in Fayetteville.

Hannah and Hairston are creating a therapy DVD to show caregivers, doctors and therapists at the orphanage. It will train them how to work with children with varying degrees of disability. They are also taking materials that will enable the adaptation of chairs and other equipment to get children off the floor or out of bed. By getting them off the floor, the children will be able to interact with their peers and build more skills. The therapists are taking materials to cast braces and splints, too.

Clark is excited about the trip — which started Saturday and ends March 26 — and getting to work at the orphanage Antoshka in Kramatorsk, Ukraine. After three days there, the generous, eager-to-help Americans will spend two days working at an institution housing disabled children in Torez. She briefly explained a little about the conditions facing the team from northwest Arkansas. "When parents have a child with special needs in Ukraine," Clark said, "they are greatly encouraged to give the child up to an orphanage. If the parents choose to keep the child, they have to keep them indoors all the time and they can’t be educated."

Clark said that the children placed in orphanages don’t fare much better. If at age 4 a child is not yet adopted, he or she is sent to an institution where their chances for survival are dismal. According to Clark, the children rarely live beyond a few months in the institution because poor nutrition, bleak living conditions and simple heartbreak from leaving the baby orphanage where at least their basic physical needs were met. During the past four years, only one child out of 26 who has been transferred from Antoshka to Torez has survived.

The women from northwest Arkansas will do training and assessments in both places to implement a long-term program for therapy and one-on-one attention. For Antoshka, physical therapy may be utilized. For Torez, the institution, they may begin with just a one-on-one visit to get a child out of bed and sing to them or read them a story. Their goal, Clark said, is to help the institution reach the level of care Antoshka has now.

Life2 Orphans. org supports both Antoshka and Torez. They have supported Antoshka for more than three years and have accomplished wonders, according to Clark. "The children’s basic needs are being met and the children no longer have hollow eyes," Clark said. "They have toys to play on to get exercise. They are being fed well and get vitamins. Life2 Orphans just began supporting Torez and they received their first shipment of food last month. We will be assessing how to best help the children the quickest. Life2 Orphans has a great reputation with several orphanages and they are the ones arranging our visits. They are also assisting with translations."

The organization doing the assessment for the therapy program — the Human Touch Project — is OrphanBaby. Clark is on the OrphanBaby board. She helped her friends, Karmelle and Keith Chaise of South Carolina, found the organization.

OrphanBaby is a tax-exempt 501 (c) 3 nonprofit organization. Donations maybe sent to P. O. Box 342, Clover, SC 29710. The telephone number is (803) 389-1341.

Surgeries planned Amanda and Jimmie Clark’s three children, Leks, Dima and Lena, are undergoing surgery in May. The surgery that each child will undergo is selective dorsal rhizotomy. The surgeries will be performed at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Clark said cerebral palsy causes the muscles to stiffen because of spasticity and dystonia. The SDR surgery eliminates the spasticity in the lower extremities. The procedure involves drilling a hole in one of the lower vertebrate, separating and testing the nerves to determine which ones cause the spasticity and clipping the ones that do. "For Dima," Clark explained, "the surgery may allow him to run. For Lena, it could very well give her the opportunity to walk independently. Now, she isn’t able to use a walker independently. For Leks, the surgery will allow him to learn to crawl and use his walker independently."

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