Tuesday, November 09, 1999

A big picture from pint-size Perlman pupil

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Lauren Reder
        I am spying on the little girl in the red sweater. She is bouncing on what looks like a giant gold pillow. Rubber? Some sort of air bag, maybe? She turns her beautiful little 3-year-old face toward me and laughs. The biggest, happiest laugh you can imagine.

        Pure joy.

        She can't see me. I'm peering at her from behind the observation window at the Aaron W. Perlman Center for Children at Children's Hospital Medical Center. The woman hanging on to the little girl's pink tennis shoes is a physical therapist. The inflatable mattress helps teach the little girl equilibrium and balance.

        Lauren Reder needs a little extra help. Well, actually a lot.

        A full-term baby, she went into distress during labor. “We still don't know exactly what happened,” says her mother, Allison Reder. “Fifty minutes after I walked into the hospital, they took her by caesarean. John — my husband — heard them call a code blue.”

        The baby was resuscitated. At first, Lauren seemed to be developing normally. But at six months, she still wasn't sitting up. She wasn't crawling. The Reders took her to a specialist. Cerebral palsy, they were told.

No sob stories
        That's a diagnosis repeated about 14 times a day in this country. Twenty years ago, there was one new case of cerebral palsy per 1,000 live births. Today, the number of new cases is 2.5 per 1,000. For one thing, modern medicine saves the lives of lots more preemies and low-birth-weight babies. Babies under five pounds just didn't used to survive.

        Now, about 90 percent of them do. “But a large percentage — some estimate as many as 30 percent — have brain injury,” according to United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati (UCP). Experts say that the increased number of multiple births due to fertility drugs has also upped the number.

        The Perlman Center is an educational intensive care unit. Allison, who drives there four times a week from West Chester, calls it a “wonderful place.” She says she knows this is where Lauren will begin to “realize her potential.”

        And what might that be? Her potential, I mean.

        “Limitless,” says Linda Wnek, Perlman's director. She'll walk. She'll speak normally. She'll go to college and get a job. But she will need, as Linda says, “some special accommodation” along the way.

        She'll probably need a computer to help with writing during the early years of school. Speech and physical therapy. A lot is available.

        “It's not a sad story,” Allison says. “I see people looking at us with pity. And I just hate it. I want to tell them to get to know her, spend time with her. She's a gift. You won't feel sorry for me. You'll be jealous.”

By the numbers
        United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cincinnati is trying to raise a million dollars for the Perlman Center and for the August J. Rendigs Center for youths and adults. Not everybody can afford a $7,000 language computer or an $800 walker. Not everybody has medical insurance.

        According to UCP, “the community gains $25,000 annually for each person who can move from welfare into the full-time work force.” They will be mailing out cards and fliers and asking for money. Maybe you'll get one. You probably get a lot of pleas for your attention. And your money.

        They have good, practical reasons for supporting their cause, statistics about independence and education and employment. Sound fiscal management. Very compelling.

        And I am trying my best to look at the big picture, really I am. But the most vivid picture is the one that I saw through the observation window at the Perlman Center. Red sweater. Pink tennis sneakers. Pure joy.

        Limitless potential.

        E-mail Laura Pulfer at laurapulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393. Author of I Beg to Differ, she appears on WVXU radio, NPR's Morning Edition and Insight's Northern Kentucky Magazine.