Inside Amanda's World
Tiny Amanda Landis' entry into the world was not an easy one. Her mother struggled to deliver her and within minutes after she was born, she started turning blue in her grandmother's arms.
"We yelled for the nurse who grabbed her and hooked her up to all these machines," recalls Darlene Byrd, Amanda's grandmother. "She had a seizure and they kept her in the hospital for two to three weeks for observation."
Despite the rough start, Amanda proved to be a fighter. She would need every ounce of strength too.
It soon became apparent that Amanda wasn't developing normally. Unlike other babies, she didn't crawl or roll over on her own. Her left arm was weak and she held her tiny hand in a fist. Her language skills weren't developing either. Still, she was playful and her sweet face radiated with an infectious smile that brought joy to all around her.
Her grandparents, Darlene and Robert, who have raised Amanda since infancy with help from Amanda's aunts Krystal Landis and Michelle Byrd, began making the rounds of doctors to try and understand what was wrong. It was through one of Amanda's early intervention therapists that Darlene found out about Good Shepherd. She scheduled an appointment and it didn't take long before Dr. Karen Senft , a developmental pediatrician, diagnosed cerebral palsy .
"It was kind of a relief because we finally knew what was wrong with her and could get her the help she needed," Darlene says.
Amanda, soon to be seven years old, was almost four when she started coming to Good Shepherd's pediatrics program  for weekly speech , physical  and occupational  therapy. Thursdays are her "big" therapy day when she gets all three in the space of an hour and a half.
The pediatric staff is always happy to see her when she walks into the room, her long, slender legs supported by two braces. On a recent Thursday, she proudly showed off her new sneakers with lights that flashed with every step.
Carol Knauss, Amanda's physical therapist, marvels at Amanda's progress.
"When I first started seeing her, she couldn't stand by herself, not even with a walker," she says. "I always thought she'd need something to support herself because her balance was so poor. But one day, she took a few steps, then the next time, a few steps more, and now she walks everywhere with just her leg braces."
Pediatric speech therapist  Liz Deemer is next on Amanda's agenda. Amanda's vocabulary is limited to a few familiar words which she routinely uses. It's also hard to understand her because her cerebral palsy affects the muscles in her mouth. Today they're working on a communication device called the DynaVox Series 5 which uses icons on a small screen and flash cards to build Amanda's vocabulary and sentence structure. It also helps her communicate her wants and needs, and tests her ability to distinguish between such concepts as "front" and "in between."
Liz credits Amanda's determination with her slow but steady progress.
"She is a child who is willing to learn," she says. "She loves adventure and trying new things. She's always happy and very resilient. Nothing gets her down."
Amanda's last stop of the day is with occupational therapist  Jen Schueck. Settling down on a colorful floor mat in front of a blackboard, Jen is teaching Amanda to write her name. There are both cognitive and physical challenges as Jen works to improve Amanda's fine motor skills.
"She's made leaps and bounds," Jen says. "She's doing very well. Right now we're very close to her being able to imitate writing her name. As I write it, she writes it."
Grandmother Darlene and Aunt Michelle Byrd are in the waiting room as Amanda walks toward them with that great big beautiful smile and twinkly eyes, proud as can be. Darlene is thrilled with Amanda's progress since coming to Good Shepherd."
She used to kneel at the screen door and watch the kids play outside," Darlene says. "Now she's out there with them. It's just amazing what she's doing. Good Shepherd means the world to us. It's been heaven sent."
And so has Amanda.
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* This article originally appeared in the September/October 2008 edition of Sweet Charity, Good Shepherd's official publication for donors. To read more from Sweet Charity, click here .