Laura was born in Germany at an army hospital two weeks late. During birth, a cord wrapped around her neck and arms. The doctors said nothing with the fear of her mother, Kathy, going into shock. Laura wasn’t breathing and her hands began turning blue. Luckily, she survived, but suffered a brain injury. For the first few years, her mom stayed home with her, teaching her everything she could. As time passed, Kathy admitted she needed help.
Laura eventually began going to a school that was better equipped to address her individual needs. This wasn’t an easy task to accomplish in the 1970’s. Many places, faces and organizations came in and out of Laura’s life. She would attend a camping program over the summer, and then come home to a work school and different programming afterwards.
Finally, Laura and her family moved to St. Louis. She attended public school for the first time and would get upset on Saturdays because she wanted to be with everyone else. Laura’s parents picked up on this desire to be included with others. They started planning early on what life could be like for Laura after they were gone. They saw other parents of children with disabilities pass away and leave their child heartbroken, unprepared and alone.
Laura’s mother, Kathy says, “The natural course of events doesn’t include living with your parents forever. I wanted Laura to experience life, just like she did growing up. And now it’s funny. When Laura comes home [before the pandemic], you can tell when she wants to leave. It’s because of the relationships with others she’s built over time. It’s her life now, not ours.”
In 1998, they were introduced to the Independent Supported Living program at Emmaus. They went to see what it was about and fell in love. Laura’s mother, Kathy, immediately acknowledged the amount of respect her daughter was treated with. She loved the faith-based mission, atmosphere and most of all, the caring people.
Laura and her Direct Support Professionals hit it off right away. They were friendly and made Laura feel comfortable. Best of all, they were problem solvers. The team members at Emmaus could easily relate and adapt. The collaborative relationship Laura built with her support team, and the fighting spirit that she has developed over her lifetime, helped Laura make it through what looked like a terrible situation earlier this year, when Laura was diagnosed with COVID-19.
It happened quickly. In the early days of the pandemic, Laura woke up with a cough, and her eyes were more red than usual, and her oxygen levels were low. Because Emmaus had already implemented a policy of taking client and staff temperatures, Laura’s team took her temperature, notified the Emmaus nursing team, and decided to go to the hospital. By the time they arrived at the hospital, Laura’s fever had spiked to 102 degrees.
At the time, no one was allowed in the hospital to accompany Laura. By the time she got to the hospital Laura understood what was going on but was unable to express her fear and concerns. After explaining to Laura that she would be tested, she appeared afraid. Direct Support Professionals advocated that they be allowed to go in with Laura. After tying bandannas around everyone’s faces as make-shift masks, they were granted access. With support, Laura was brave and strong. They received the call on Easter Sunday. Laura tested positive, and her quarantine process began.
It was the first case Emmaus had dealt with and Laura’s health challenge pushed everyone to innovate. Luckily, Laura’s home has 3 stories, the top level having a bedroom and bathroom. Multiple phones were installed in her new room, and a virtual monitoring system was installed. This allowed Laura to contact her parents, friends and directly communicate with her staff without them entering the room.
She also received a tablet to video chat with her housemate, Kori, who thought it was cool that she could talk to her through the intercom. Laura was sick. Sometimes it got the best of her. She had ups and downs. Some days were better than others. Most of all, she got very bored. She would reach out and call anyone just to hear someone talk. On days she that didn’t feel good, she stayed in bed. Other days, you couldn’t tell anything was wrong.
At first, staff was hesitant. Everyone who had been in contact with Laura needed to be tested, and anyone working with Laura was now restricted to working only in Laura’s home. There were also team members who really came through for Laura and volunteered to work alongside her after she had tested positive. Some assisted in being the companion Laura desperately craved and spent hours just talking through virtual means. Others stepped up around the house by sanitizing, mopping, and disinfecting things regularly. Those Direct Support Professionals worked every day they could, just to know that Laura’s health and safety were being protected.
After the initial diagnosis, Laura never had a high temperature out of the normal. Once 14 days passed, and no one in contact with Laura had contracted the virus, Laura was able to come out of quarantine. The excitement of the day will not be forgotten. Everyone was smiling ear-to-ear at getting back together. For Laura, the great part about living with the support of Emmaus is the consistency of being challenged. This illness challenged everyone, but Laura is glad she no longer is just sitting around all day. Laura’s growth has been substantial. She’s back to her chores, responsibilities and increasing her independence to learn and do more things for herself.