To Tanzania with Love | The Laurita Spina Bifida Project wants to donate wheelchairs

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.” — Fred Rogers (“Mr. Rogers”)

I don’t really remember what it’s like not being able to walk. As parental anecdotes recall, I was about two years old when I took my first steps. My parents were overjoyed, of course, but probably more than most parents, because I have spina bifida. According to my doctors at the time, I wasn’t supposed to be able to walk.

I may not remember what it was like crawling around the house or not being able to stand up, but, at age 30 now, I am beginning to grasp what it means to have limited mobility. My knees and back hurt constantly, and my wheelchair is getting much more mileage than it used to.

As I recently learned through a good friend I’ve never met, there are people in Tanzania, and in many other countries, who do not know the privilege of owning a wheelchair— what a blessing it is to have the equipment to facilitate mobility.

Little did I know until these past few weeks, that there are people on the other side of the world who would give anything to have the freedom I am often complaining about— the freedom to move.

That’s why my non-profit organization, The Laurita Spina Bifida Project, has offered to help the Association for Spina Bifida And Hydrocephalus Tanzania (ASBAHT) by raising funds so they can purchase wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, and a prosthetic leg for a young girl with spina bifida.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

A shifting perspective

It really gives me pause to reflect on how grateful I am for my “inconveniences.”

Over there, where my friend lives, people aren’t griping because someone took the accessible parking space. Or because their wheelchair won’t fit in their friend’s car when she offers to give me a ride.

They don’t complain about these problems because they don’t exist. Because access to the mobility devices they need doesn’t exist.

Many moms of children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus must push their children in strollers instead of carrying them. If they don’t have access to the brain surgery to have a shunt placed, the children’s heads grow until the parents can no longer carry them. Even these strollers are very hard to come by. As for me, I am only vaguely reminded I have a shunt in my head when the weather changes and I feel a slight headache.

This holiday season, I am fully committed to making the freedom of mobility a reality and not just a dream for at least several people in the Tanzanian spina bifida community…people who are much like me.

Maybe this will make a huge, life-altering difference for them. Maybe it won’t. All I know is, everyone needs someone in their life who refuses to give up on them.

I have you guys. Now, it’s my turn to be that person for somebody else.

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Image courtesy Sifa Sylvia, ASBAHT 

How you can help

What we need, first and foremost, is monetary donations. Whether it’s $5 or $500, every dollar makes a big impact when you add it all up. Trust me on this! How incredible is it that for the price of a latte macchiato you bring us one step closer to giving a deserving human being the gift of mobility?

 

Here’s a rough estimate of what each item costs, in U.S. dollars:

• Wheelchairs – $140.00 each

  • Walkers – $70.00 each

• A prosthetic leg for a youth with spina bifida – $460.00

Other ways to help out

If you own a company or know of a company or organization that might be interested in partnering with us to help raise the funds, please reach out to me at laurita.tellado@gmail.com. I truly believe “it takes a village,” and you are all my shining example of that!

Consider this campaign for your company’s end-of-year charitable contributions. Every donation is tax-deductible.

Also, since there are just so many wonderful social good campaigns during this time of the year, we need your help with getting the word out. Please, post to Facebook, Tweet, share, blog, Pin, Instagram post, etc.! There is truly no action that is too small to make a difference.

Please share / post using the hashtags #TheLSBProject , #SpinaBifida, and #Give5ToThrive (because we want to encourage that no amount is too small!).

Keep up with this campaign by following and connecting with us on social media:

The Laurita Spina Bifida Project on Facebook

@TheLSBProject on Twitter 

@TheLSBProject on Instagram

Remember what it’s all about

Finally, keep in your mind and heart that we are doing this to pay it forward. We have been so Blessed throughout this entire process, and I’m grateful for each and every person who has been part of The Laurita Spina Bifida Project’s journey thus far.

In the words of my friend Sifa of Tanzania, the angel behind-the-scenes who has put me in contact with the ASBAHT: “It will be an honor for ASBAHT to partner with you or any other organization or individuals out there with the heart to help the forgotten children, youth, and adults living with SBH in Tanzania.”

Thank you, Sifa. We’ll do our best.

Love,

Laurita ♥

My Actual Letter to the Mother who Aborted her Baby with Spina Bifida

 

A note to my readers: 

Recently, I received an E-mail from a mom who contacted me for advice. She had a pregnancy affected by spina bifida, and at the recommendation of her doctor— she chose to abort. In addition, she wanted my advice on how NOT to have another baby with spina bifida. As you might have read in my previous post, I felt the entire gamut of negative emotions upon opening and reading that E-mail— anger, sadness, judgment towards her, and just an overall sense of melancholy that seemed to pervade my emotions for several days. 

In a desperate attempt to sort out my thoughts, I took to the only place I felt I could safely share my heart— this blog

 

CamelMeme

 

 

The backlash was almost immediate. I expected there would be pro-choice advocates (I am still very much on the fence in the abortion debate— so don’t ask me) who would argue that she acted on her rights. Really, I anticipated that. 

What I didn’t expect was the anger and vitriol that spewed, even from moms of children with spina bifida who know me personally. I was accused of not being a good advocate because a good advocate “doesn’t think of her own feelings.” 

How is it even possible to do that!? I could never put my own feelings aside, for it was my own feelings that helped me become an advocate for the spina bifida community. It is my emotions that fuel my passion for activism and education. I could never turn off my emotions. That is just absurd. 

However, I also was not prepared for the outpouring of love, support, and encouragement from many friends and followers who applauded my article. They felt it was a good tribute to how many parents of kids with spina bifida— and adults with SB, especially— feel when they come across stories like these. I will be forever grateful especially for these people, for they buoyed my spirits up during one of the most challenging times I’ve encountered in my 5+ years of blogging. 

What a difference four days makes! 

After a few days away from the circus (really, it was ridiculous!) I decided to finally reply to this woman with a clear head and lighter heart. I’ve also been physically sick with various illnesses which have had me very preoccupied. 

So, without further ado, this is what I actually said to her— verbatim, raw, uncut, no edits. And it was from the heart. 

 

Dear _____________,

Thank you so much for contacting me. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to contact someone with spina bifida after losing a baby with spina bifida.

First, let me say I am very saddened and sorry for your loss. However you lose a baby, it is heartbreaking and it must be so difficult. I admit, upon first reading your E-mail, I was quick to judge you. I felt angry that you did not want to have a baby with the condition that I have, as if having spina bifida means that my life is not worth living. This is why I did not answer you immediately. But after much thought, crying, and praying, I have come to realize that there are many like you who do not have the information they need to make this decision. I know for a fact that many doctors put pressure on mothers to have an abortion when spina bifida is diagnosed.

I have lived with spina bifida my whole life, but I have never been a mother, so of course, my advice is based on what I know from having spina bifida myself.

But, I receive many E-mails from mothers who are pregnant with a baby with spina bifida, and many who have children with spina bifida.

Let me start by saying that there is no way to guarantee that you won’t have another child with spina bifida. Nobody can promise you that.

Sadly, there has not been much research or information about spina bifida until recently. Honestly, the only way to guarantee that you won’t have a baby with any disorder or disease is to not get pregnant. A B-vitamin called folic acid has been shown in recent years to help prevent a child from having spina bifida, but even if you take it as recommended by a doctor, it only works about 70 percent of the time. So, that is not going to promise you a baby without spina bifida.

Here is the link to some information about folic acid published by the March of Dimes, a wonderful organization that helps prevent birth defects and support families of children affected by birth defects: http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/folic-acid.aspx

Finally, because you seem very determined to not have a baby with spina bifida, the final piece of advice I can think of offering you is this: if, by chance, you do end up having another baby with spina bifida, please know that it is NOT a death sentence, or a tragedy. 

I have met many, many families who have children born like me, with spina bifida, and who, like me, grow up to be happy, successful, even healthy adults. Yes, they sometimes go through many surgeries or other medical complications, but most can grow up happy and make friends, and as adults, get jobs, go to school, and even get married and have their own families. I have played with many children with spina bifida I have met through these families, and they are absolutely beautiful and precious, and very smart and active.

It is possible to have spina bifida and live a happy, healthy life. 

I work as a blogger, writer, and social media professional. My work has taken me to different places, as I am often invited to speak at events and conferences around the United States. I have connected with adults with spina bifida and families all over the world who reach out to me for advice or simply to know that someone else understands.

I do not mean to say that I never get sick or feel pain, because I do. I have had 19 surgeries and many, many hospital visits. My family has been through a lot, and it is not easy. Pain is a part of life, and even “healthy” children will get sick, get hurt, and suffer at some point. Every parent feels their job is to take away their child’s pain, but like my parents have done with me, their job is to stand by me, to hold my hand when I am having a hard time. They are my best friends and love me so much.

So please don’t think that having spina bifida means I have had a horrible life. Thank God, I live a wonderful life and I feel grateful for every minute of it.

I hope this serves to encourage you, no matter what doctors say, no matter what others say to you, to be the best mom you can be for your child, whether he or she has spina bifida or not.

That’s all you can really do.

 

May God Bless you and please contact me if you want to talk some more. I am here.

Laurita

 

To the Woman who Aborted Her Baby with Spina Bifida

 

Dear Woman,

First off, let me say that I am not writing this on an impulse. In fact, I have given this a lot of thought and have decided to give this situation a “grace period” in which I could cool off, reflect, cry, pray, gain perspective from others in your situation, and allow myself enough time in which to answer you without anger or bitterness.

Of course, this time has allowed me to be more merciful and fair to you. But please know that I needed this time as much as you did. It’s not easy to for me to process my emotions about an issue that is so personal to me.

But, you E-mailed me asking for advice and answers. After choosing to terminate your pregnancy of a child with spina bifida, you want my advice, my insight, my wisdom, on how to have a “healthy” baby.

How’s this?

I have nothing to offer you. No advice, no answers, no wisdom, no tips, no magic crystal ball to predict what your next child will be like. 

My first instinct, upon reading your E-mail to me, was to hate you. After all, you managed to break down wall after wall of cautious, precarious illusion of self-esteem that I have spent 28 years painstakingly building. And for 28 years, it has worked for me.

 

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My Mami when she was about eight months pregnant with me. I am my parents’ only child.

 

When I first began blogging five years ago, I was moved by the many moms who contacted me. Most have had children with spina bifida, and some were pregnant with a baby with spina bifida, and wanted advice on how to handle the birth of a child with “special needs.” Or maybe they wanted solidarity; just the notion of knowing someone else out there in cyberspace can relate. I was elated at the idea of being able to help these women; give them a glimmer of hope for what the future held for their children. I offered them my friendship and unconditional support, and in return, I have been rewarded many times over by their reciprocity, their encouragement in my difficult times, and their genuine happiness at my triumphs.

Then I opened your E-mail. It’s as if five years’ worth of fortresses of support and encouragement from these moms and little white lies I told myself quickly eroded around me. I was exposed. Vulnerable. You shattered my illusion of invincibility.

I built a community of support and encouragement, of sharing knowledge along with the good, the bad, and the ugly about spina bifida. Women all over the world contact me to thank me for simply sharing my story, trivial as it may seem to many. Because the story of my normal yet fulfilling life gives them hope. It helps them to know their children can aspire to this.

And yet, I cannot help you, because you aborted your baby. You cut the common thread we would have shared. Now all I see is a large, dark chasm between us, because I am nothing like you. 

No, I am that child with spina bifida, the one you chose to abort. I look in the mirror, and I see the life that was discarded because it wasn’t deemed worthy of living.

And you ask me for advice because you don’t want your next baby to turn out like me.

And I am angry beyond words. Because in spite of all I have accomplished in my life, no one wants to have a child like me.

Not even my own mother would have wanted that. But she did.

 

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I was about 18 months old in this picture. Whether or not Mami envisioned having a baby with spina bifida, she and I have always been thick as thieves.

 

And that, plain and simple, is what frightens me the most. That maybe, just maybe, your story and my mother’s are not all that different. You each won the lottery that no one wants to win.

I wish you well…and maybe next time, take a second glance at your lottery ticket.

It’s Never Too Early #RSVawareness #PreemieProtection

 

This is part of a sponsored collaboration with MedImmune and Latina Mom Bloggers. However, all opinions expressed are my own. 

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As many of you know, one of my greatest passions in life is raising public awareness of spina bifida and the challenges that affect people living with SB, as well as the accomplishments, talents, and abilities of these very people.

Along the way, I have become aware of so many other worthy causes, in particular other serious conditions and illnesses that also deserve awareness and publicity. It is in sharing information about these causes that I find great purpose.

November 17th is World Prematurity Day. (It’s actually the day after my birthday!)

With many wonderful awareness initiatives, walks, and fundraisers that now take place nationally, it’s awesome to see that much of the public is now more informed about the incidence of premature births.

What many don’t know about, however, is a disease that affects many premature babies– respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

It was the lack of awareness of spina bifida that encouraged me to begin writing this blog in the first place. And now, it’s the lack of awareness of RSV among parents that has compelled me to partner with MedImmune to share this vital, potentially life-saving, information. 

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RSV is a very common seasonal virus that affects nearly 100% of babies by the age of 2. 

Here are some fast facts about RSV and prematurity that  every parent needs to know: 

  • Each year worldwide, 13 million babies are born prematurely
  • 75% of parents don’t know the definition of prematurity (birth at or before 37 weeks gestation)
  •  Most pregnant women don’t ask their healthcare provider about the risk of delivering prematurely and the potential consequences of preterm birth for their child
  • Severe RSV disease is the leading cause of infant hospitalizations in the U.S., with approximately 125,000 hospitalizations and up to 200 infant deaths each year.
  • RSV season usually occurs from November through March for most of the U.S., but it varies regionally, and from year to year.

 

Most of the moms I’ve befriended or who befriend me on social media have a child with spina bifida. As pillars of strength and examples of grace and perseverance for their families, these women would do anything for their families, and it would break my heart to hear of one of their children falling ill with RSV, especially with everything else they already have to deal with because of spina bifida. 

This is why I feel it’s so important for me to share the symptoms and warning signs to look out for when diagnosing RSV. Parents, please be on high alert if your child exhibits any of these symptoms: 

  • Persistent coughing or wheezing
  • Bluish color around the lips, mouth, or fingernails
  •  Rapid, difficult, or gasping breaths
  • Fever (especially if it is over 100.4°F [rectal] in infants under 3 months of age)

There is no specific treatment for RSV disease, so prevention is your best bet. That being said, here are a few simple parents should take to help reduce the risk of your child getting RSV, particularly during high season, which is from November through March:

 

  • Understand the risk factors and ask your child’s pediatrician if your child may be at increased risk
  • Wash your hands and ask others to do the same
  • Keep toys, clothes, blankets, and sheets clean
  • Avoid crowds and other young children during RSV season

 

Yes, this information may seem very overwhelming, and I’m sure that it’s nothing that parents want to even think about. But, as the tired old saying goes, “it’s better to be safe than sorry,” and by taking the proper precautions, parents, especially those whose children have other health issues, will have one less thing to worry about. 

And it’s never too early– or premature— to take good care of our children!

For more information and tips, you can visit www.RSVprotection.com.

 

Announcing the Winners of Our First BRITAX Giveaway!

For a week, moms of young children, as well as expectant moms, filled this blog with excitement– and comments! I want to thank each and everyone of you who entered our very first giveaway with Britax.

And so, without further ado, the envelope, please…

The lucky winner of Prize Pack 1, which includes the Head & Body Support Pillow as well as an EZ-Cling Window Shade, is….

 

a Rafflecopter giveaway
  Astrid Rivera!    And the winner of Prize Pack 2, which includes a Stroller Board and a Kick Mat, is…   a Rafflecopter giveaway

 

Natalie Shmigelsky!

 

Congratulations to both winners! They will both be notified by E-mail today. Please be sure to respond to me with your shipping address so that Britax can send you your prizes. :)

Thanks again, and look forward to more giveaways– as well as more great content in general– on Holdin’ Out for a Hero.

 

Love,

Laurita ♥

This Week’s Rundown– Keeping Spina Bifida “Relevant”

Perhaps the toughest challenge I’ve faced in the past nearly two years of Holdin’ Out for a Hero is keeping the spina bifida cause relevant. This not only means keeping it at the top of my feed on Facebook, on Twitter, and on other social media sites. It also means I have a hard time finding new and different ways to write about what I write about that will keep both you, the reader, and me, the writer, interested and engaged.

It’s especially frustrating whenever I realize I’ve missed a key opportunity to promote the cause. Some days, it feels like the public just isn’t ready to learn about spina bifida!

Me at the UCF KnightWalk for Babies this year sporting two of my most defining items: my SBACFL T-shirt-- and my laptop. ;)

 

There are those days when I wish I could hand people a pair of special binoculars through which they could see the world through my eyes— and truly experience life with spina bifida, even if only for a few minutes.

These thoughts weighed heavily on my mind as I heard of my little friend Chance’s back-to-back hospitalizations for shunt malfunctions this past week. He had just returned from the hospital after his sixth surgery when his mom, Amanda Kern, noted some strange symptoms in her baby boy.

He ended up having to go back in for two more surgeries. I thought about and prayed often for their family, as I have come to know Amanda and care for each of them. My heart hurt to “watch” them go through all this. Fortunately, Amanda is very efficient at keeping all her friends and relatives updated!

Chance is now back at home, and Amanda has been witness to yet another miracle. She visited Mary, a woman I met at the SBACFL playdate recently. When I met Mary, she was very pregnant with her third child, who was diagnosed with spina bifida. I can now announce happily that Mary’s son, Mason, has entered the world.  He is currently in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unite (NICU), so I ask that we all keep him and his family in our prayers. Still, it looks as though Mason is off to a beautiful start.

So, to bring it back to my earlier frustrations: how do we keep spina bifida relevant? Well, people might sometimes ignore a 24-year-old who’s aging out of that stage where people still feel compelled to take action on my behalf. But we can’t ignore the children. Look at them. They are the next generation of the spina bifida community, and they’re going to need all the support they can get. With prevention methods being highly publicized, and quality-of-life issues being swept under the rug, they need someone who will fight for them.

I believe this is the first time I wore my "Redefining Spina Bifida" T-shirt. I was at the Salvador Dalí museum!

And it’s not just Mason and Chance. It’s Lina, the young woman who desperately needs a kidney. It’s Masha, the little girl in Russia who yearns to find a family in the U.S. who will take care of her and love her like any other child. Often people will see or read about these stories and not connect them to the spina bifida experience. But, it exists. People like us are out there. We’re not last century, before folic acid consumption. We’re today. We’re NOW. 

To help keep the spina bifida cause  even more relevant, please donate to the Spina Bifida Association of Central Florida’s Walk-N-Roll fundraiser! Help me reach my goal of $1,000 so that this organization can continue making a different in the spina bifida community.

 

Love,

Laurita