Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Very Significant Birthday

This article came through one of the DS listservs I'm on and I thought I'd share :).

A very significant birthday
At 70, man with Down syndrome enthusiastic about life

Friday marked an important day in the life of a St. Joseph man and an accomplishment of modern society and medical care. Alan Walker, who has Down syndrome, celebrated his 70th birthday with a party at the United Cerebral Palsy building.

This may not seem significant, but in 1929, a mere 12 years before Mr. Walker was born, the average life expectancy for a person with Down syndrome was only nine years, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Fast track to 2011, and it is common for a person with Down syndrome to live to age 50 and beyond. In 2007, the Guinness Book of World Records said the oldest man with Down syndrome died at 67. But in 2008, they recognized a man who was 80.

“For adults with developmental disabilities, any birthday is significant, especially if you experience Down syndrome. The life expectancy is not high,” said Lindsay Williams, program specialist at UCP. “They’re living longer and that’s great, but their lives are enhanced as well.

“They’re not just living to an age. They’re experiencing everything that a person without a disability would.”

Mr. Walker has been attending the UCP’s day program since 1998 as one of the ways of enriching his life and letting him interact with as many people as possible. Workers and people who interact with him on a daily basis can’t hide their affection when talking about the 70-year-old man who wakes up every day with the enthusiasm of a schoolboy.

“He’s just excited about life,” said Jessie McQueen, who is staffed to work with Mr. Walker in his home, in addition to working with him at UCP. “If everyone was as excited about life as he is, we would have much better lives. He truly loves his friends and his staff and his friends. He’s just got a really big heart.”

His zest for life was on full display when Officer Henry Peña walked in the door at the UCP to surprise the birthday boy. Mr. Walker loves policemen, firefighters and basically anyone who dons a uniform. One worker recounted being with him and seeing a group of waiters that were decked out in black polo shirts and black slacks, and he lit up at the sight of them.

It looked like Mr. Walker’s whole body smiled when Mr. Peña walked through the doorway. Grinning ear to ear, he pointed at the officer and exclaimed “He’s my boy!”

When Mr. Peña offered to let him get into his Chevy Impala cruiser and turn on the siren and lights, Mr. Walker sprung up from his seat and scuttled across the room so quickly that some of the caretakers at UCP cautioned him to slow down and be careful.

“I like that feeling,” said Mr. Peña, who met him for the first time Friday. “I’m like ‘I can do no wrong!’

A police officer’s life is mostly negative contact with the criminal element and people that are upset with us.

“We love these types of events. It’s great for us as officers because we get to deal with something positive.”

Mr. Walker’s big day didn’t end at UCP with his 20 guests. He said he had plans to go out to dinner with all his friends Friday evening. When asked where they were dining, he quickly and happily boomed out “Olive Garden,” with the same zeal as he has for everything.



Adelaide Dupont said...

Hope he and his mates had a wonderful time at Olive Garden.

Wish him many more birthdays.

"He's my boy!"

(And I hope to see you as an octogenerian!)

I've often thought about aging and growing old.

And that's a wonderful point: "They're not living to an age. They're having experiences".

Keithslady said...

What a great story. My aunt with ds turned 56 last summer and she's doing great.

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