Archive for Thursday, September 8, 2005

De Soto Masons improve life of MVHS student

September 8, 2005

Her teachers forgive Mill Valley High School sophomore Susie Busby her occasional anger.

The 16-year-old has lived a difficult life. Shortly after birth, she contracted meningitis that resulted in cortical blindness and severe cognitive impairment.

It is a typical consequence of meningitis and often happens within six months after a baby is born. In 2001, she suffered a stroke that led to hemiplegia, a condition that paralyzed the left side of her body. To preserve its functionality, this May Susie underwent massive reconstructive surgery on her left leg.

When Masonic Lodge 40 in De Soto learned of Susie's condition, its members set out to raise the $1,266 needed to purchase a specialized walker customized with a tray, handrail, back support, leg retainers and a seat. An additional $130 was spent on switch-activated toys and games.

Patricia Beck, a paraprofessional working with Susie to improve her agility, was overjoyed.

"It just goes to show you that there are people out there with a heart who are not selfish (and) who are willing to give whatever they've got," she said. "They just saw something that needs to be done and did it.

"To me, that's just amazing. They've kind of adopted her as their little girl, and it's fantastic."

Susie is enrolled in the Bridges curriculum at Mill Valley, which provides additional support to students with special needs so they may be successful in their educational experience.

"We're working on her language skills," said teacher Muriel Saunders. "Which is tricky because she talks when she wants to, and it's really hard to motivate her because very often we motivate students with a favorite activity or food.

"We can't use food with her because she doesn't eat orally. She isn't talking very much and that's a top priority.

"We want her to say hello and good morning without being prompted. Most of the time, she still must be prompted."

Susie's communication curriculum also includes practice on assistive technology. She works with an Ablenet box, a device with two adaptive switches that allows her to manipulate multiple electronic devices ranging from radios, tape recorders, mix masters and televisions.

Given her physical disabilities, Susie is still making progress with physical articulation, Beck said.

"She's got a good grasp. She can reach and get items, but she can't release them. If she hears someone, we want her to be able to reach toward them to gain attention.

Despite the hardships, Susie is described as resilient.

"She could cry all the time. She doesn't. She doesn't complain," Saunders said. "She gets angry sometimes, but that's good for her because she's had to fight a lot of her lifetime. But she always comes roaring back."

Susie also works with teacher Hollie Arnold and paraprofessional Megan Van Buren in the Bridges Program. Susie currently lives with her grandmother.

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