STAFFORD, Texas – When Benita Leon discovered she was pregnant, she and her husband were overjoyed with excitement, hopes and plans for their baby’s future. Those hopes and plans came to a sudden halt when a doctor delivered the news that their baby was diagnosed with down syndrome. Uncertain for what the future would now hold for her child, Leon felt overwhelmed and helpless. Luckily, help was on the way to guide her and her family through their journey.
“When I first received the news that Zachary was diagnosed with down syndrome I was shocked, in disbelief, probably a little bit angry,” said Leon.
Along with handling the initial shock of the diagnosis, Leon and her husband also had to prepare themselves for the laundry list of health complications that went along with it ranging from heart issues to delayed development and even blindness.
“It was overwhelming,” said Leon. “But, in my mind I said, ‘No matter which way he comes to us, no matter how he comes, we’re going to love him, and we’re going to do the best we can.’”
When Zachary was born, the doctors saw that he had some serious intestinal issues and scheduled him for surgery the next day. While they were still in the hospital, Leon had her first encounter with GiGi’s Playhouse.
“I was actually in recovery. They came to our room and presented us with a little packet, and there was a card in there, and the card read GiGi’s Playhouse,” said Leon.
A few months later, while Leon and Zachary were at a doctor’s appointment, GiGi’s Playhouse came up again.
“We were referred to a new pediatrician, and the new pediatrician asked us initially at the first visit, ‘Are you familiar with GiGi’s Playhouse,’” said Leon. “I’ve heard it twice now, so I said, ‘Well, yea let me go and check out GiGi’s Playhouse.’”
Leon called and spoke with a very bubbly representative who invited her and her family to an upcoming event. At the event, Leon knew immediately that she had found the support and community that she and her family needed.
“Previously, I wouldn’t say I’d lost hope, but I was in such a place where I felt alone,” said Leon. “Just attending that event, meeting everyone there, I felt like I have a family now.”
GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land Program Director Belinda Orsborn explained that in addition to fun events, GiGi’s Playhouse also offers a wealth of resources.
“We provide programs and services to individuals with down syndrome of all ages. All of our programming is completely free. We don’t ever want cost to be a barrier to anyone’s success,” said Orsborn.
Leon was amazed that a program like this was available in the Houston area at no cost.
“This was a free service, and so we signed up for it as soon as we found out about it,” said Leon. “It’s been a blessing. It’s been a true blessing.”
With services ranging from speech therapy to career development, Orsborn says the organization is helping to make a significant impact on the lives of their participants.
“The self-esteem has just been amazing. You can see it in the way they hold themselves and the way they have conversations. I feel like a proud parent,” said Orsborn.
As a mother of a participant and a volunteer, Leon hopes to raise more awareness for GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land and down syndrome in general.
“I hope that other families will grasp for that hope,” said Leon. “Parents don’t have to do this by themselves. There are many resources out there, and they’re there to help. They’re there to support, and they’re willing to – they’re waiting for us.”
To connect with GiGi’s Playhouse Sugar Land, visit their website here.