A Lesson in Acceptance Carrie and Evelyn Zak, St. Joseph

As a former elementary school teacher and mother of three young children, 34-year-old, St. Joseph resident Carrie Zak has spent much of her time educating others. When the birth of her third child, Evelyn, turned out differently than expected, Carrie began preparing her family with the necessary tools to educate and advocate for differences of any kind.

Carrie’s third pregnancy began very uneventfully.“It was a smooth, easy process. My third baby was the easiest one!”

The smooth sailing continued even through labor and one hour after arriving at the hospital Evelyn was born. Twelve hours after giving birth, the pediatrician informed the Zak family that Evelyn was showing indications of Down syndrome.

Doing what she does best, Carrie began educating herself about the condition and the medical care that would be needed. Two weeks following her birth, Evelyn began physical therapy at Lakeland Rehabilitation. During the therapy sessions with physical therapist, Hannah Brooks, PT, they focused on improving motors skills and growth delays associated with her diagnosis.

Unrelated to her condition, Evelyn also developed a tight muscle on the right side of her neck, which caused her to lay on her left side of her head more often. The added pressure on her soft skull created irregular shaping of her head, also known as a flat spot.

Over the next four months, Evelyn’s flat spot continued to grow. Hannah referred Evelyn to Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital for a consult and scan to assess the progression. At her six months checkup, Evelyn’s condition had become severe enough that cranial helmet therapy was suggested. The helmet would help gently correct the shape of the skull slowly over time to avoid future health issues.

“It draws a lot of attention but that’s alright - it gives us a chance to talk about it. Having your child wear a helmet is really harder on the parents than the kids.”

Through a partnership with Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, certified orthotist and prosthetist, Pete Kapelke, CPO, who specialized in this type of equipment, fitted Evelyn for a helmet. It was available within two weeks and would be placed in time for her next major growth spurt which would decrease the amount of time she would need to wear it.

“We call her our unicorn baby. She’s just magical and our amazing gift. She’s got this adorable little mohawk that sticks straight up and out of her helmet.”
“It’s been a good experience. A lot of people ask questions and I love educating people on something that’s helping enhance my daughter’s life."

With Evelyn’s therapy almost complete, the Zak family is looking forward to uninterrupted cuddling time and Evelyn’s next adventures. Evelyn is just like any other happy child. She enjoys tummy time, playing with toys, and spending time with her mom, dad, brother, and sister.

"She is teaching us to live in this moment and not to worry about tomorrow. We are taking things one day at a time and trying not to get too far ahead of ourselves.”

To learn more about Evelyn and Carrie's story, visit www.spectrumhealthlakeland.org/zak

To learn more about Evelyn and Carrie's story, visit www.spectrumhealthlakeland.org/zak

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