*This story first appeared in The Budget’s May 2, 2018, Local Edition.
By Joanna Byler
Children are the future, a gift from God, no matter the circumstance. Many never consider the possibility that their future blessing may not be as healthy as expected. All hope for the birth of a healthy child, but, for some, that is not the reality they are faced with.
A growing number of families within our communities are caring for children with special needs. This can come in the form of many unfamiliar conditions, such as Blue Eye Delay Syndrome, Cartilage-Hair Hypoplasia, Nephrocerebellar Syndrome, or GM3 Synthase Deficiency. All are genetic disorders with limited knowledge regarding diagnosis and management of the ailment.
When families are faced with uncertain diseases and unknown conditions, it is often scary. Simply not knowing what to expect or how to help their loved one is a burden. Where does one turn to when faced with the millions of questions that come flooding in when given the news that a child faces a life of uncertainty? The answer: New Leaf Center in Mt. Eaton.
In 2013, NLC first opened its doors in Mt. Eaton with a mission in mind. Their goal is to “provide medical care to Anabaptist children with inherited disorders.” Providing a comfortable space where parents can bring their children, not only for diagnostic evaluation but where they can receive ongoing primary care, is the main goal of the clinic. This is achieved by partnering with families to give straightforward information, quality care, and constant compassion. NLC’s foundation is based on four main essentials of care: to be cost-effective, culturally appropriate, cutting-edge, and locally accessible.
The clinic is the culmination of several years of hard work and persistence by Dr. Olivia Wenger, who began her career as a general pediatrician working at Akron Children’s Hospital. Unfulfilled by traditional medicine, Dr. Wenger soon found herself at the Clinic for Special Children in Pennsylvania, working and learning alongside Dr. Holmes Morton. With the research and techniques Dr. Morton shared with her, Dr. Wenger soon returned to Wayne County, this time with a vision to open a similar clinic, one focused on researching and treating the genetic conditions of the surrounding population. She found support through her work at Akron Children’s Hospital and local churches.
“We aim to eliminate the useless suffering of children,” Dr. Wenger said. “History shows us that the suffering of children can deepen faith and broaden a community’s capacity to love. This is useful suffering. However, history also gives many examples of children who suffer uselessly. Useless suffering is destructive—creating deep, painful scars. When do our children suffer uselessly? Our children suffer uselessly when their parents and doctors cannot compromise. Our children suffer uselessly when the adults entrusted with their care act out of ignorance and pride instead of conscientious humility. Suffering children cannot choose whether or not their pain and loneliness will be useful. That choice rests in the hands of the adults around them.”
Last fall, NLC took a big step forward by merging with Windows of Hope Genetic Information Center (WHGIC). Research is an important piece of the diagnostic puzzle, and absorbing the efforts of WHGIC has allowed NLC to expand not only its knowledge of specific conditions that are unique to the culture but also their reach throughout the area.
Over the last five years, NLC has become an established part of Holmes, Wayne and surrounding counties, doing research, providing care, and giving guidance to many parents who have come looking for explanations.
As a non-profit organization, the clinic is dependent on the continued support of the surrounding communities, and as part of the fundraising efforts, hosts an annual benefit dinner. The 2018 dinner was held April 19 at the Heritage Community Center in Winesburg. Attended by 640 guests, this year’s event was, according to organizers, the best-attended to date, further proof that the clinic is becoming a recognized and celebrated part of the area.
The dinner was a chance for patients’ families, staff members, the board of directors, and supporting members to come together for an evening of reflection, updates, and getting an overview of what’s to come. A favorite part of the evening was a time of Q&A with two physicians and two families who talked about their interactions with the clinic. As the parents shared about their experiences in working with the physicians to find the best care for their affected children, the consensus was the same: NLC is a local blessing, a help in a time of difficulty. Though none of the parents expressed regret in having a special needs child, there’s no denying that there is extra work that comes with the duty, that, at times, can be exhausting. Having a place nearby where they can turn to for answers, for assistance, and sometimes just for a listening ear, can make a world of difference in their daily lives. NLC is that place.
The clinic currently has a roster of over 350 patients. An initial visit is approximately two hours in length with a cost of $100. Follow up visits are $65 each. Just 10 percent of the clinic’s operating budget comes from fees as 66 percent is derived from donations and 20 percent from collaborative work.
If you know of someone who may benefit from New Leaf Center, or if you have questions or would like to offer your support, the clinic can be reached via mail at PO Box 336, Mt. Eaton, OH 44569, or by phone at 330-359-9888. New Leaf Center is also online at newleafclinic.org.