Lights on the Horizons

Through program, kids catch up developmentally, parents get peace of mind

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— Jacob Thomas Budwitz is a ham. The toddler sings and dances to "Frosty the Snowman." He says cheese when the flash goes up, and he isn't shy about showing off his toy fishing rod.

But J.T. has to share the spotlight in the Budwitz household with his sister, Jessica, and brother, Tanner. J.T., Jessica and Tanner are triplets who will turn 3 on Dec. 28. They can be a handful for their parents, Bill and Lorie Budwitz.

"Sometimes it's a little insane," Lori Budwitz said of raising triplets. "Definitely with time it gets a little easier."

When Bill and Lorie Budwitz think about what has been the hardest part of the last three years ? the lack of sleep, the teething, the potty training ? they point to the first few months.

One newborn is a life-changing event for any parent. Three can be overwhelming. And when one ? J.T. ? comes into the world weighing just 2.13 pounds, there are added burdens.

J.T.'s low birth weight led to a month in the hospital, two surgeries within the first year of his life and slower development than his siblings. He watched as his brother and sister learned to crawl, talk and walk. Bill Budwitz said it was frustrating for J.T. and his mom and dad.

"It's difficult as a parent," he said. "To some degree it breaks your heart."

The family has gotten help from Horizons' Early Intervention Program. Since J.T. was 10 months old, he has been working with a Horizons therapist to strengthen his muscle tone and improve his speech.

J.T. is one of the 68 children the organization worked with last year in its effort to make sure that early developmental delays do not lead to permanent delays.

"They are less likely to need special education and special services as time goes on," said Kay Borvansky,

who is the development coordinator for Horizons Specialized Services.

The 26-year-old program works

with children who have a genetic syndrome, premature birth, difficult birth, frequent ear infections or, like J.T., a low birth weight. It also gives screenings to young children so parents know if their child is on the right track.

But as the state budget tightens, so do the funds that get spent on the Early Intervention Program. Although Horizons, which works in five counties in Northwest Colorado, served 68 children, the state only funded 26.

That left the nonprofit organization with a $35,000 funding shortfall.

Both the child screenings and therapy sessions are at no charge and Borvansky said there is no waiting list.

"Ideally, they want us to put names on a waiting list and take them whenever you can make the room," she said. "But the delays only get more compounded. We have decided not to make them wait to provide services for them."

Jodi Glaisher, a pediatric occupational therapist at Horizons, works with the children and said it is a service that many cannot find anywhere else in town. Glaisher said the hospital has started a program in the past year, but often families are reluctant to go to the hospital because they think their children's problems are not that serious. And insurance often is not enough to cover the cost of the hospital program.

"Any kind of free services helps," Glaisher said. "If it was just the hospital program, not as many kids would be getting served."

And Glaisher, like Borvansky, sees the urgency in giving services to young children.

"When you give them the support now, you may not need any intervention when they get to school," Glaisher said. "They won't have the stigma or won't get pulled from class."

To help maintain the program, Horizons has started the Little Points of Light fund-raising campaign. For every donation made a light bulb will be lit on trees outside of each of the five county offices. The goal is to raise $10,000.

It is a small investment, Lorie Budwitz said, to take care of the problems that could become bigger problems as children enter elementary school. She believes the children who have developmental delays are usually the ones who have trouble in school.

"It truly is preventive. So, when J.T. does enter into school, he will not have the delays he would have," she said. "This service affects everyone. It's a small investment, especially in a small community."

In the past year, J.T. has physically caught up with the average 2-year-old and no longer needs the physical therapy Horizons offers. He is still having speech therapy.

"It makes all the difference in the world," Lorie Budwitz said.

During the pregnancy, Lorie Budwitz was warned that there could be complications with the smallest of the three fetuses.

Right after J.T. was born, the doctor took J.T. and called Bill Budwitz over.

"He was perfect, just really small," Bill Budwitz said. "And, we weren't really sure. We had been prepared for really bad things."

Both Jessica and Tanner weighed more than six pounds and were healthy babies. For the first month, J.T. was kept in the Denver hospital as he gained weight. The rest of the family stayed in a nearby hotel, with two newborns and constant trips to the hospital.

J.T. went through two surgeries; one was for a hernia, which is common in premature babies. And at 10 months, Lorie said they took J.T. to Dr. Ron Famiglietti, who said the baby's muscle tone was not quite right. That is when the family was connected to Horizons.

Glaisher would come to the Budwitzes' house to work with J.T.

She worked with J.T.'s surroundings, everything from his toys to the stairs to his siblings, and showed his parents and nanny what he should be doing to be getting stronger.

Glaisher calls it play therapy.

She uses a feather boa to work with children's sense of touch, she has a rocking horse for balance and a toy piano for thinking and motor skills.

"When you think of physical therapy, it is like five more repetitions, but it doesn't look like that at all," Glaisher said. "It looks like play, but it is very specific play. It's getting them to respond to build on things that they need to work on."

Lori Budwitz said Horizons was a great source of information and gave her something she desperately needed ? the peace of mind that comes with knowing how to help her son.

One of the reasons J.T. was not talking as quickly as the other two, Lori Budwitz said, was because his siblings always spoke up for him. And, when one of them asked for juice, she said, all three of them got it.

Now, if one of them wants something, they have to ask for it individually, but that was not a practice she started until Glaisher pointed out the problem.

"As babies, they are used to doing things a certain way. And it gets harder to change that. We want to get them in time, before the habits become ingrained," Glaisher said.

Horizons also helps young children with much more severe needs like Ellie Zwak. Ellie was born with a heart defect and at 10 months had open-heart surgery. That surgery caused Ellie to go into cardiac arrest. For one hour and 45 minutes her heart stopped beating.

Ellie, who was developing along the track of a typical 10-month old, now had vision impairments and a drop in motor skills. Doctors warned that she would have two to four years of developmental delays.

When Ellie's parents, Audrey and Shawn Zwak, returned home they were contacted by Horizons. And Glaisher came to show the whole family, including older sister Hannah and older brother Sam what to do.

"She didn't just work with Ellie. She worked with the whole family," Audrey Zwak said. "The whole family had special needs. She really got Hannah and Sam involved. They never felt jealous, they were always part of the solution."

When Glaisher first came to visit Ellie, the little girl wasn't even able to pick up her arms or legs. She was also fussy and didn't like to be touched. But today, Ellie is a talkative 3-year old who knows her alphabet and is starting to learn Braille.

She still has visual impairments, and probably will for life, but Audrey Zwak has hopes Ellie will be able to walk on her own this school year. As for smarts, Audrey Zwak said Ellie has insights most 7-year-olds lack.

Although the Zwaks have good insurance coverage, Audrey Zwak said it was comforting to know that Horizons provided its services for free. At one time the family had thought they would have to move to a larger town, but doctors advised them to stay in Steamboat.

Ellie's story has been told many times. She is featured on Channel 10 at the Humble Ranch and used on Horizons' brochures.

Audrey Zwak said part of the reason is because hers is a story of progress, of steady and constant improvement that has never plateaued.

"We always tell people to help the people that help (Ellie)," Audrey Zwak said. "To please give money to the services and support agencies."

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