By Anne Marie Amacher
IOWA CITY — When Patty Rodriguez was 6 ½ months pregnant, she had an ultrasound scan like many expectant mothers do. She had watched an ultrasound scan in the past and knew what to expect of the procedure. But when she was having her ultrasound scan, it took much more time before the doctor said anything. “I knew something was wrong,” Rodriguez said.
Another doctor arrived to examine the ultrasound scan. Doctors said the unborn baby had a heart problem, could have Down syndrome and might have short arms and legs. A staffer in the room offered Rodriguez the option of getting an abortion.
“I cried. I couldn’t do that. I am Catholic and I could feel my baby.” While she rejected abortion, she agreed to undergo further tests through amniocentesis.
The results confirmed a heart problem, but the baby did not have Down syndrome. “I was so happy,” Rodriguez said. But she knew her baby would face heart surgery not long after birth and other problems might be present that weren’t detected in the tests.
After Pammie’s birth, doctors thought she had just a heart problem. But they discovered cataracts when she was 5 months old. The cataracts were removed and Pammie has worn contacts or eyeglasses since she was 9 months old. At one year, Pammie didn’t walk or “babble” like many children her age. Doctors found she had a dislocated hip and scoliosis.
Today, at age 7, Pammie has endured a total of 12 surgeries for health issues related to her heart, eyes, intestines, hip or back (for the scoliosis). She will continue to have surgeries for scoliosis into her teenage years.
Faith gives the family strength. “We believe in God,” Rodriguez said of herself, Pammie and Domingo Quintero, Pammie’s father and Rodriguez’s husband. Rodriguez said that as a teen she didn’t have much faith. But God has ways “to let us know our love.”
Today the family attends St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City. Pammie asks each week if they are going to church. “Yes,” her mom tells her. “Pammie loves to sing,” Rodriguez noted.
Along with belief in God, Rodriguez attributes the Arc of Southeast Iowa as a source of support. The family received a referral to Arc which has made “amazing changes in our lives.”
Arc offered respite care so that Rodriguez could do simple things, such as shopping. The agency also offers supported community living, consumer-directed attendant care, a supported employment program, support groups, fellowship, classes and more. A Spanish support group is active too; Rodriguez and Pammie are active participants in it.
The mother said she knew she didn’t have to worry when Pammie was with Arc care providers. They helped with therapy and encouraged Rodriguez to work on sounds and motions with the little girl, who began to talk and sing. “Today Pammie knows English, Spanish and French,” her mother said.
Arc’s support has been beneficial to all three family members.
“I learned (over time) that I had to take care of myself and love myself. Pammie was brought here to teach me to do that. She came to fill my life with love, courage and strength,” Rodriguez said.
Today Pammie is a first-grader at Kirkwood Elementary in Coralville. She explained her health challenges to her class. When she was in the hospital last month for surgery, the students sent her cards.
Rodriguez tells her story to groups throughout southeast Iowa on behalf of Arc of Southeast Iowa. She gave her first talk out of gratitude to Bill Reagan, the agency’s president and CEO. Her comfort level with speaking has grown and Pammie has accompanied her mother on many talking engagements. “It’s natural because it’s our life,” Rodriguez said.
“Pammie and Patty are such an inspiration,” Reagan said. “They inspire others who have children with or without disabilities. They are advocates for the mission of Arc as to who we are and what we do. They advocate for all we serve.” Reagan added, “Pammie has such a great personality.”