Perfect love - Anna-Kay Tomlinson counts her blessings

Perfect love - Anna-Kay Tomlinson counts her blessings

By NADINE WILSON All Woman writer

Monday, March 26, 2012

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SOME might find it taxing and even bothersome raising a child with special needs, but this has been far from the case for Anna-Kay Tomlinson, whose six-year-old son Liam was diagnosed with Down's syndrome at birth.

Tomlinson labels her son's experience a blessing in disguise, as he has changed her outlook on life.

Although having Down's syndrome means that Liam has 47 instead of the 46 chromosomes a baby usually inherits from both parents, she only sees the positive side of his condition.

"Down's syndrome means having a child that God sprinkled with a little extra brown sugar, that's how I look at it," she said.

Neither the mother, nor her husband, paediatrician Dr Osmond Tomlinson, were naive to the likely challenges their son would face as he grew. And in case they weren't aware, they were given a dose of reality when at just four months, they had to watch him undergo heart surgery. His condition brings with it severe mental and physical challenges, but Tomlinson is adamant that her son will not be hampered by his medical status.

"I treat Liam like I treat my other kids. I take him everywhere and I do other things with him," said the mother, who had two girls before witnessing her dream to have a son come through.

Tomlinson admits that on first learning of her son's medical condition, she was shaken to the core, but her anxiety gradually dissipated as she interacted with her baby.

"I won't lie to you, it felt like my whole world ended, because all my life I had waited for a son," she explained. "I wondered what did I do wrong? And you know you just want to lock yourself away from the rest of the world," she stated matter-of-factly.

Today, she takes pleasure in Liam doing the things other parents take for granted, like hearing him say "mama" or "dada", or climbing up the sofa, or even picking up a pea.

Interacting with him daily, she said, has given her a lesson in love.

"In the last two months, all that mattered to me was to hear Liam say to me, 'I love you'," she beamed.

"I can't explain just how much I love that little boy, everyday I think, 'no man, I can't love him no more' and I wake up the next morning and his smile alone just makes my heart explode," she said.

The birth of her son, she said, had also been the catalyst for her going after her dream to open Miss T's Kitchen, an authentic Jamaican restaurant nestled in the busy town of Ocho Rios, St Ann.

"For 10 years I wanted to open a restaurant because my passion is food and I just didn't have the courage to do it. It was not until I had Liam that this dream came into being, because he gave me that courage to realise that 'bwoy I am strong you know, I don't have to be fearful if I fail and what are people going to think'," she said.

But living and operating a business outside of the Kingston metropolitan area presented a slight disadvantage to her son, since there are not many specialist doctors or special education institutions in St Ann. It therefore means that she has to take Liam to Kingston every Thursday for speech therapy, and he has to be educated at home. It is her hope that more facilities will be established for children living with Down's syndrome, but in the interim, she acts as a resource person for parents struggling to raise children with the condition.

In 2007, she and her husband partnered with paediatric cardiologist, Dr Charmaine Scott, to start the Jamaica Down's Syndrome Foundation, which is a resource for parents, and which aims to create awareness and acceptance among other persons. The foundation already has over 400 families registered.

"Society has a problem with accepting people who are different. We still struggle with that, so really what the foundation is all about and what my aim is, is to really create an awareness. Once there is awareness, then there will be more acceptance," said Tomlinson.

She said raising a child with Down's syndrome can prove to be costly as well since it involves the regular testing of such an individual.

"Sometimes these parents just really don't have the money to do it," she said.

But Tomlinson is blinded to the challenges of raising her special needs son, even if they do exist.

"Liam has really changed my life, he has changed me to the core, he has made me realise that perfection is not about how we look or a glossy Hollywood magazine. Perfection is about how we really are within," she said.

World Down Syndrome Day was recognised on March 21.


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