- April 14, 2017
WEST ORANGE When Maureen Wright was 28 weeks pregnant with Andi, the technician noticed Andi had a heart defect. When medical professionals noticed Andi had shorter limbs, they sent her over to a specialist, who confirmed Andi had Down syndrome.
“It was heartbreaking,” said Maureen, whose other daughter, Julianna, was 4 years old at the time. She was a special-education teacher at West Orange High School, and she volunteered at Morning Star, which serves kids with Down syndrome. “I always say it’s one thing to be the teacher of one, but it’s very different to be the parent and get that diagnosis.”
Within two days, she got a call from the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida.
“They were instrumental in the early days,” said Greg Wright, Andi’s father. “If you have a typical child, there’s mommy groups and a lot of support for first-time mothers. But when you have a child with Down syndrome, there’s typically a lot of medical expenses early on. What the Down Syndrome Association of Central Florida brought to us was just a group of people that had all already experienced these challenges.”
The Down Syndrome Association brought so much support that now Maureen is the chair of the 17th annual Down to Party and Auction the organization hosts.
Andi was born full-term and spent several weeks in the NICU. At 10 weeks, doctors performed open-heart surgery. While they were in the hospital, a mom walked in, telling Maureen that her child also had Down syndrome, and she wanted to check on the Wrights.
Maureen noticed her short and sassy hair and how young she was. Seeing this woman threw out all Maureen’s concerns that she wouldn’t fit in in the Down syndrome community.
She’s really cute and adorable, Maureen thought. I can do this.
If you visit the Wright household today, you’ll see Andi, now 10 years old, enjoying life as a part of the family. And if you meet Andi, you’re also going to meet Barley.
The dog watches closely as Andi walks into the room, and if she comes close enough, he will give Andi a big kiss. Barley is Andi’s service dog.
At first, Maureen hesitated to get a service dog, but after a friend who worked at Canine Companions encouraged her, she toured the facility and decided it made sense for the family.
Barley is a companion for Andi. She notices that Barley misses her while she is at school, and he sleeps by her side at night.
Barley and Andi’s friendship has even been documented on a national level.
During Kleenex’s “Kleenex Cares” campaign, the company filmed Andi and Barley as part of a commercial. Maureen was happy to use the opportunity to spread awareness of people with disabilities.
“She’s more like us than not,” Maureen said. “I always say that she’s Andi. She has blond hair and blue eyes, she’s sassy, and she has Down syndrome. But it’s just a small piece of who she is.”
Andi now attends school at Thornebrooke Elementary, which she enjoys. She goes by the nickname Awesome Andi. She takes swim lessons and is preparing to participate in the Special Olympics.
It’s not always easy for the Wright family, which still gets support from the Down Syndrome Association and Mosaic Church, which has a “sidekick” program that ensures Andi is cared for during services.
“We have a pretty abnormal experience, but I like it,” said Julianna, who is now 15. “Some things are a little more difficult, but some things easier. Some typical everyday stuff like going to the movies is a bit harder, but Andi is worth it. She gives you lots of love, and she’s really caring for everyone.”
Contact Jennifer Nesslar at [email protected].