When my son Ryan was born, I got what I had wished for: a healthy, beautiful baby boy. There was no greater joy than when I first laid eyes on him. I dreamed of the future he had in front of him: the school plays, soccer games, first dates, and graduations.
But life is not a straight line.
When Ryan was 11 months old, his father accidentally hit him in the head with a golf club. As a result, he suffered a traumatic brain injury. I tried to tell myself that his injury would eventually heal and our life would resume as normal.
That never happened. The son I knew was gone forever.
Twenty-three years have passed, and even though it has not been easy, I realize I have been given the greatest gift – a teacher. Ryan has taught me so much – often without saying a word. He has shown me the depth of my strength and forced me to exhibit courage I did not know I possessed.
Most importantly, he has granted me the freedom to choose hope over despair. Ryan was patient with me as I learned the best ways to support him; as I learned to be the mother that he needed. Over time, he taught me to pause in the difficult moments and choose a hopeful outcome. These choices of hope have enabled me to accept our circumstances and for us to grow stronger each day.
Ryan is surpassing some of the milestones I once only hoped that he would. By watching him, I have learned the true meaning of perseverance. Because of him, I am determined to help other children living with disabilities have access to opportunities that allow them to reach their fullest potential.
Before, I would ask “why us?” While it is impossible to know with certainty “why” this happened, I do believe that I have an obligation to act on the lessons I have been taught. That is why I started the Lollipop Kids Foundation in 2010. If I can help ease one parent’s suffering and convince them they are not alone, then that may be why. If I can give one child with a disability the chance to play with friends that don’t make him or her feel different, then that may be why.
Ryan has reminded me that there are blessings hidden within the darkest of tragedies and hope hidden within every day. I am determined to make sure every child with a disability and every family always has access to that hope.
-Debbie Sahlin, Founder and Executive Director