Kindering, a nonprofit agency that benefits from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, offers comprehensive therapy and support to children with special needs and their families during the first three years. “They’ve been our lifeline,” says one grateful mother.
On a fetal monitor in the hospital delivery room, Sara and Troy Hyatt saw their unborn baby’s heartbeat plunge. Five long minutes passed before the heart rate returned to normal.
Doctors ordered a C-section and the baby girl was lifted from her mother’s womb about 40 minutes later.
Their new daughter, Hattie, screamed and screamed. Holding didn’t calm her. She wouldn’t nurse. Feeding became so stressful that her parents could only get her to take a bottle after she’d fallen asleep.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Each year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the fall and winter, The Times is telling how the 12 organizations make a difference in the lives of thousands, and the impact donors can make. Click here to donate to the Fund For The Needy.
ABOUT THIS SERIESEach year, The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy raises money for a group of charities that help children, families and senior citizens. Throughout the fall and winter, The Times is telling how the 12 organizations make a difference in the lives of thousands, and the impact donors can make.
In the weeks that followed, Hattie missed developmental milestones. Placed on her stomach, she couldn’t hold her head up. Rather than making eye contact with her parents, she seemed to stare through them.
“I knew as her mom something had happened. It was devastating,” said Sara, an employee-communications manager for Microsoft, who used family medical leave and the company’s infant-care leave benefit to take the first six months off and then to work from home.
When Hattie was 4½ months old, the pediatrician recommended Kindering, which specializes in therapy for children with special needs from birth to age 3. Kindering staff performed a comprehensive assessment and confirmed Hattie’s delayed development.
The agency, one of 12 nonprofits that benefit from The Seattle Times Fund For The Needy, assigned a physical therapist and a feeding therapist to start seeing Hattie each week at the Hyatts’ Sammamish home.
“They came to us. That’s what’s so amazing about Kindering. They meet you where you are,” said Sara.
In addition to working with Hattie, the therapists were able to give her parents advice on how to cope with the baby’s challenges and written instructions to continue the therapy between visits.
“We knew nothing,” said Troy Hyatt, an insurance broker. “The therapists from Kindering reassured us. They said, ‘We’ve been here before. We know what you’re going through. We can guide you.’ ”
Founded in 1962 by five Eastside mothers of children with disabilities, Kindering offers comprehensive therapy and support to children and their families during the first three years, when brain development is most active, said Mimi Siegel, the agency’s executive director.
Siegel has overseen the organization’s growth from three part-time staff in 1978 to 150 today at clinics in Bellevue and Bothell. The center serves 4,000 children and families a year, and its increasingly diverse clientele now speaks 86 languages.
Kindering provides education, therapies and family support to children from birth to 3 years old with developmental delays or disabilities.
Siegal said parents typically arrive at Kindering frightened and exhausted. The team of therapists is able to drill down on each child’s particular needs and develop strategies that can let the parents and the child make progress.
“It gives them a direction to go in, and small victories,” Siegel said.
Your dollars at work
Samples of what Kindering can do with your donation:
$25: Books for early literacy education.
$50: High-contrast, colorful toys for visually impaired children.
$100: An hour of physical therapy.
For information: https://kindering.org
The agency’s own research shows that 46 percent of 3-year-olds graduating from Kindering’s programs close the gap with normally developing children and don’t require special education. Seventy-five percent significantly narrow the gap.
“We’re giving them a powerful head start and then the schools continue to build on that work,” Siegel said.
Kindering also offered a Friday-night support group for the Hyatts’ two older children — ages 5 and 7 — to be with other siblings of special-needs kids. Sara said that at home, the older kids recognized their parents’ stress and anxiety and avoided talking about their little sister. Over pizza and games at the siblings group, they could talk with other kids going through a similar experience.
Kindering continued to adjust treatment plans for the Hyatts. When Hattie was 7 months old, staff recommended a teacher for the visually impaired, who placed the baby partially inside a special box that limited visual stimuli so she could start training her brain to focus. The teacher hung objects above her — red seemed to hold her attention — and encouraged her to play.
“That was my first glimmer of hope,” said Sara, “the first time she raised a hand to interact.”
But Hattie continued to resist feedings. She had violent reflux that caused her to vomit several times a day. Her parents and a succession of nannies spent eight hours a day squeezing bottles of formula, pureed baby food and oatmeal into her mouth just to get her enough nourishment to stay alive.
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They saw 17 different specialists at Seattle Children’s hospital who performed dozens of tests, none of them identifying a cause for Hattie’s problems. One doctor suspected a rare genetic disorder that was fatal in all cases.
Sara and Troy said that was their lowest moment, waiting four weeks for the results of a spinal tap.
“We were in such a dark place. We thought we’d lose her,” Sara said. The test came back negative.
At 18 months, a brain scan showed lesions on Hattie’s brain consistent with the loss of oxygen during birth. Her diagnosis now is cerebral palsy, a permanent brain injury that compromises movement and muscle coordination and is often complicated by visual impairment.
Last December, when Hattie was almost 2, the couple agreed with doctors on the need for a feeding tube. By March, they said, Hattie started sitting up on her own. The irritability went away. She began to track movement and to interact with her family.
At a recent play session at the Kindering center in Bellevue, Hattie laughed as her nanny for the past eight months, Kena McClure, blew bubbles that drifted across her field of vision and popped gently on her face. Hattie is still unsteady when she tires. Sara sat on one side, holding her daughter’s shoulder, while Troy held the other.
In January, Hattie will start preschool for developmentally disabled children in the Lake Washington School District.
“I feel good about transitioning,” Sara said. “Kindering has taught us to be advocates for our daughter and to understand her world. They’ve been our lifeline.”