By Barb Arland-Fye
Ed Finn and his wife, Laurie, were celebrating the birth of their newborn daughter, Emily, when they learned that she had Down’s syndrome. “It was devastating; it hit us like a ton of bricks,” Ed told people gathered for a fundraising event May 4 at the Women’s Choice Center, a pro-life medical center in Bettendorf. “This was our first child.”
A nurse at the hospital gave the new parents little hope for the future, he said. “We were told as soon as she was born that she would probably be able to feed and clothe herself, but that would be it,” Laurie said during a later interview. “That was a ludicrous thing to say. It put into our heads this idea of a horribly challenging life — when it has not been that at all.”
But on the day of Emily’s birth, Ed left the hospital to get some fresh air and drove to a nearby supermarket. In the parking lot he saw a young man with a mental disability walk by. At that moment, Ed understood what Emily meant to him: “I was the only dad she would have; that’s when the love began.”
In the 16 years that have passed, Emily has grown into a vivacious teenager who thrives in the nurturing love of her parents and two younger brothers, as shown in a slide presentation set to the music of “Be Not Afraid.”
Ed told the Women’s Choice Center audience that his family, members of St. John Vianney Parish in Bettendorf, couldn’t imagine life without Emily. She is a blessing. And that’s why it saddens him that an estimated 84-91 percent of unborn children who would be born with Down’s syndrome are aborted. Having a child with Down’s syndrome — or any disability — “is a blessing if you can trust that the Lord will help you through the difficult times,” he said.
Emily underwent heart surgery as a baby, followed by annual checkups at University Hospitals in Iowa City. During one of those visits, when Emily was 2, a homeless man who apparently hadn’t bathed in a long time was sitting in the waiting room. No one wanted anything to do with the man. But when Emily’s name was called, “she walked up to this man and put her arms up to give him a hug,” Laurie recalls. “You could tell this guy probably had not had a hug in years. Nobody else would give this person the time of day. But this was an individual who needed a hug, just like we all do.”
For Laurie, witnessing Emily’s loving embrace of a neglected stranger was “like watching Jesus himself walking up to a leper. It made me realize these children are the living, compassionate, innocent people we’re all supposed to be. They are the guardian angels on earth who are here to remind us of how we’re supposed to treat other people. I often look to Emily as a role model as to how to treat other people.”
Today, Emily is very independent and can prepare her own meals, take the bus to school and participate in a variety of activities. A sophomore at Pleasant Valley Community High School, she’s also a member of the Sparkles, the school’s special needs cheerleading squad.
Her parents assume she’ll be able to live in an apartment, work part-time and volunteer and “be a complete asset to the community, like anybody else,” Laurie said. “But as a mother my goal is to outlive her by one day. No one else is going to love her like I do.”
Ed asks all of us to pray for spiritual renewal, support for the Women’s Choice Center — located across the street from a clinic that performs abortions — and for education for parents-to-be so that they have the courage to say “Yes” if their unborn child has Down’s syndrome.