Like every 15-month-old who knows he’s been caught getting into mischief, Zachary Rowan giggles and grins at his parents when they catch him moving toward the stairs.
Watching their son explore — pulling pots and pans out of the cabinets and rocking to the beat of a musical toy — has been especially exciting for Nancy and Andrew Rowan.
“These are things we worried we’d never see happen,” Nancy said.
Nine days after he was born, Zachary was diagnosed with Pierre Robin sequence, a rare congenital birth defect that is associated with the connective tissue disorder Stickler’s syndrome. His small jaw, cleft palate and the position of his tongue were causing severe sleep apnea, making it very hard for him to breath.
Doctors initially recommended an intense surgery to modify his jaw, but the Rowans found out about a noninvasive option offered at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health in California.
Zachary was fitted with an orthodontic airway plate (OAP) — a device that looks similar to a retainer. Wearing it for several months held his tongue out of his airway and put gentle pressure on his lower jaw, allowing it to grow.
“It was literally saving his life,” Nancy said.
When Zachary was first diagnosed, the Rowans didn’t realize that they would be eligible to receive help from Ohio Early Intervention. However, a friend from church explained that the program is available at no cost to families for any child with a developmental delay or disability, regardless of financial situation.
After connecting with the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities, the Rowans began working with Speech Therapist Janelle Pickens and other members of LCBDD’s Early Intervention team — Physical Therapist Annie Green, Occupational Therapist Karlie Fleak and Service Coordinator Jennifer Darr.
One priority was to help Zachary transition from using an NG tube to safely eating solids. They also focused on strengthening his neck, shoulders and core, since he wasn’t able to do much tummy time while receiving the OAP treatment.
Now Zachary is crawling, eating full meals by mouth and pulling himself up on toys and furniture. He’s getting closer to walking and continues to work on speech.
Having Janelle and her team members surround their family has made such a difference, Nancy said.
“They can notice and celebrate even the littlest milestones that even our friends and family don’t know to celebrate,” she said. “When he started sitting unassisted, (they) understood that was huge for him.”
When Zachary had surgery to correct his cleft palate, the team gave Nancy and Andrew support and ideas on drinking and eating during the three week recovery time.
The Rowans have also used Family Support Services (FSS) funds from LCBDD to purchase play equipment to help Zachary get stronger, and adaptive spoons and cups.
Whenever they have a question, they know they can reach out to members of the EI team and get a quick answer, so they have solutions to try between their scheduled visits.
“His development happens so quickly that we don’t always want to wait two weeks to get new ideas or support so he can keep advancing, ” Nancy said. “Janelle is always there with a quick response.”
The Rowans said they are grateful that Early Intervention continues to be there for their family as Zachary grows.
“We just can’t say enough good things about our experience,” Andrew said.
For more information about Early Intervention in Licking County, go to https://lcountydd.org/birth-to-3/. To make an EI referral, please call 1-800-755-4769. You can also make a secure online referral at http://bit.ly/ReferToHMG.