RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – The laughter and excitement of kids on the playground fills the air on a sunny October afternoon.
Siblings, Maya Lute and Anthony Phipps, run around playing hide-and-seek, with all the joy and endless energy kids seem to have.
No one would think anything was out of the ordinary.
Maya, 10, and Anthony, 3, are the children of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Karmalita Phipps, 86th Dental Squadron dental technician. Ten years ago, Phipps was excited to be a young mother at a checkup, but the doctor didn’t bring the news she was expecting.
The doctor said her child had an 89% chance of having Down syndrome and further explained the worst-case scenario of what life would be for the parent of a child with Down syndrome.
“I was asked the day I found out if I wanted to terminate the pregnancy,” Phipps said. “That was the first question they asked me. I didn’t want to terminate the pregnancy.”
Phipps continued with the pregnancy and gave birth to Maya, who did in fact have Down syndrome.
Down syndrome is a genetic disorder that can occur when a child’s 21st chromosome is repeated in their genetic makeup. This additional chromosome can cause a broad spectrum of differential ability in children in regard to physical and intellectual development.
As with many genetic and developmental disorders, Down syndrome operates on a spectrum of presentation and can look completely different for each individual child.
“Maya is a very good helper at school and home,” Phipps said. “She is very good at picking up after herself and putting things back where they belong. She enjoys cooking and baking.”
Maya does many things any other ten-year-old kid would do. There are a few items that would set her apart though.
“At a very young age, she was able to sense emotionally if something was wrong with me or other people,” Phipps said. “If I was sad, she literally sat next to me and would just pat me on the back and wipe away my tears.”
At this time in Ramstein Air Base’s history, Maya is one of a few children with Down syndrome in the Kaiserslautern Military Community.
“In the last four years, there have been a total of seven children born in the KMC with Down syndrome,” Sarah Sellers, Exceptional Family Member Program Medical intern said. “This is a small number in comparison to stateside rates of Down syndrome among children. However, the smaller population of the KMC explains this discrepancy.”
There are still resources available in the area even though there are not many cases of Down syndrome in the KMC.
“Parents of children diagnosed with Down syndrome in the KMC area are automatically enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program,” Sellers said. “This entitles them to a number of resources through both EFMP Family Support and EFMP Medical.”
October is Down syndrome awareness month. The EFMP reminds the KMC to reach out and learn more about Down syndrome.
“I would encourage everyone to learn the facts about Down syndrome,” said Lillie Tarver, EFMP family support coordinator. “Have a real conversation with parents, caregivers, or even someone with Down syndrome and get to know them for who they are, but remember each person with Down syndrome is different and unique. Be aware of your personal stigma towards people with disabilities, remembering the importance of acceptance and inclusion and to always be kind.”
To learn more about what the EFMP office can do to help families with children with disabilities, contact Ramstein’s Airman and Family Readiness Center by calling DSN: 480-5100, commercial: 06371-47-5100, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org