Persistence pays off for Down syndrome girl, parents

ve8QAd   |   August 16, 2017

AnnCatherine was excited about going to college. Her older siblings Tim and Lillie had made plans, and her younger sister Mari was talking about future college dreams. Education was important in her family.

But Laura Heigl, AnnCatherine’s mother, broke the heartbreaking news that she would not be going off to college like her brother and sisters.

Then, they both cried.

AnnCatherine and her parents, John and Laura.

Laura explained to her distraught daughter that she didn’t have the grades necessary to get into one of her chosen colleges.  AnnCatherine has Down syndrome.

AnnCatherine’s personal story of challenge and triumph is timely, considering renewed attention on Iceland’s misplaced pride in eliminating Down syndrome from the country, as if it were achieving some higher good. The country’s efforts may be considered noble in the eyes of the media, but there is a very dark side. Actress, Patricia Heaton aptly revealed the truth by tweeting there was a “big difference” between ending Down syndrome and killing all those who had it. It’s estimated that in America 67% of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted.

In the past, AnnCatherine’s parents had encouraged her to take on the world. Her active social life and involvement in extra-curricular activities while at Indiana’s Zionsville High School was proof. So when she was told there would be no college for her, the young girl was incredulous and pushed back. “Are you telling me there is no place in the country for me to go to college?”

AnnCatherine not only wanted to go to college, she expected to go.

Her determination motivated Laura and husband John to go to work finding a college that would not only challenge AnnCatherine, but equip her to live in a world that usually underestimates people with her condition. They knew this was a watershed moment in their daughter’s life.

AnnCatherine parents always encouraged her to take on the world.

It’s no surprise there aren’t many universities equipped to help the AnnCatherines of the world be all that they can be. However, her story, reported in the Indianapolis Star, has the potential to affect change.

After a thorough search, AnnCatherine’s options were few — particularly because she was determined to experience college life by living on campus. In addition, the limited number of universities providing options has created a highly competitive environment.

One that AnnCatherine applied to was George Mason University’s LIFE curriculum located in Fairfax, Va.

The university gets up to 70 applications a year and most recently accepted only 16, with a mere four of the students coming from out of state.

Laura and John had not been optimistic, but when Laura received an email of acceptance for AnnCatherine from the university, she cried, largely from relief. It is an understatement to say that the new college student and her family were thrilled! The financial costs will be dear, but well worth it says her mother.

Upon graduation in 2021, AnnCatherine will have a Certificate of Completion that includes preparation for practical, “meaningful” employment, internships and academic achievement. This isn’t just a feel-good program; it’s realistically preparing AnnCatherine to fend for herself.

AnnCatherine with her acceptance letter from George Mason University.

AnnCatherine’s success reminded me of Mac Mattheis who I interviewed for our TV program, Facing Life Head-On. We talked on the campus of Northern Kentucky University where the freshman was taking classes. Since that time, additional progress has been made to integrate individuals with Down syndrome into everyday life — including places of employment and institutions of higher learning.

Advancements like these are central to showcasing the value and blessings of people with Down syndrome. Once we nurture a deep and abiding love for these individuals and those who help them, our nation could substantially reduce the 67% of unborn babies now aborted.

Visit our website for a wealth of resources and information on Down syndrome. Education is the most effective way to combat the prevailing ignorance in our nation regarding people with this condition. They have so much to contribute to our nation and to us individually.

Let’s cherish them.

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