Hear Rachel's story,
as featured on KS95 For Kids.
Kristen and Albert were already planning to adopt when they received an unexpected call from their adoption agency. The agency was searching - at that point, unsuccessfully - for a family to adopt an infant. The baby girl, to be born in just two months, had been diagnosed with a severe form of spina bifida.
Her Symptoms Seemed Overwhelming
Spina bifida, which means "split spine," occurs when the spine develops abnormally during the earliest stages of pregnancy. It can cause partial paralysis, difficulty walking, hydrocephalus (excess fluid on the brain) and other complex health issues - including, in Rachel's case, clubfeet.
Rachel's parents-to-be researched the condition and prepared to welcome their new daughter. But despite their preparations, they were shocked by the extent of her symptoms. "Seeing Rachel for the first time - with her back split open and both feet clubbed - was overwhelming," says Kristen. "But we were certain that she belonged in our family."
Rachel's Willpower Brings Major Achievement
Rachel had her first surgery at Gillette when she was only a month old. She's had additional procedures throughout childhood, as well as yearly casting to correct her clubfeet. Though the surgeries are difficult, her parents say they're amazed at how comfortable, and how manageable, Gillette makes hospitalization. Kristen recalls a telling example: "On our last day at the hospital following a surgery last summer, Rachel told me, 'Ugh! I am going to miss this place!'"
In addition to surgeries, weekly physical therapy at Gillette's Maple Grove Clinic, near the family's home, helped Rachel walk for the first time last year. Kristen says that seeing her daughter's sheer determination brought her to tears. "This is a girl born with malformed feet and no feeling in her lower body," she explains. "But there were her little legs, moving one by one!"
"Gillette Brings Us Together"
Rachel's parents describe her as a funny, outgoing and courageous child who, at 5, is already comfortable singing in front of her church's congregation. "Rachel thinks she is the specimen of perfection," says Kristen. "She doesn't see herself as having a disability."
That confident attitude, says her family, has been aided by her Gillette team. "Everyone at Gillette makes Rachel feel like the most important person in the universe," says Kristen. "Gillette is the hub that our whole family operates around. It brings us together."