Dr. Howard “Monte” Murphy, who is a Doctor of Optometry, talks about Down syndrome, its impact and the coming Oct. 13 walk to raise awareness and funds. October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
Q: What got you involved working with people and families with Down syndrome?
A: Our third child, Nathan, who’s 23 now, has Down syndrome. That got us involved, but we got more widely involved after attending our first National Down Syndrome Congress.
Q: What’s that?
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A: An annual meeting sponsored by the National Down Syndrome Society dedicated to providing resources, information and support for anyone touched by Down syndrome. We learned a lot, got a lot of encouragement and asked if there was a group in Middle Georgia. There wasn’t, so we joined with a few others and started the Middle Georgia Down Syndrome Society Support Group.
Q: And you’re chairman?
Q: What’s been the impact on your family having a child with Down syndrome? The good and the downside?
A: I have to say, and I’m probably pretty slanted in my view, but I can’t think of anything bad — it’s all been good. It’s helped make our other children more compassionate, and it’s amazing to see my older son, who’s pretty tough, be so patient and kind with special needs kids. I don’t see Nathan as having a disability. I see advantages. Nathan and many others like him are very forgiving. He’s aware when others are mean to him, but he doesn’t see it as important and lets it go by. Boy, if I had that gene, it’d be great.
Q: Other aspects?
A: Of course, he has bad days as well as good, just like everybody. As parents we expected him to do things to the best of his ability just like all our children. The sort of respect and positive encounters we often get when we’re out are amazing. People come up and say they have a sibling or cousin or friend with Downs and are eager to talk. People are just connected like you’re best friends. It’s always interesting how people just melt when Nathan gives them a hug, even tough guys — Marine-tough guys. Nathan has limitations, especially in speech. He can understand perfectly but can’t seem to put two consonants together for anything. But he can ice skate, snow ski and he can throw a great spiral with a football. It’s a joy seeing him every day when I get home from work.
Q: Attitudes have changed through the years regarding Down syndrome, haven’t they?
A: In the 1950s, they were called mongoloid and when born advice was to lock them away. Mothers were warned not to hold them or get attached. That’s if they even reached birth. It’s my understanding decades ago, 98 percent of those diagnosed in the womb were aborted. Things have changed, and now that’s 48 percent. I still think that’s tragic, but at least attitudes have changed. There are even faith-based adoption agencies that promote Downs adoptions and would-be parents seek to adopt Down syndrome children. People now respect and embrace Down syndrome and special needs people.
Q: How does your local organization help?
A: We’re a network and support system. We support other agencies, organizations and projects that help people with Down syndrome. A big thing we do is provide scholarships to the national congress. We’ve helped six or seven families go each year recently and would like to do more. We help a support group that meets in Houston County. We have a program supplying doctors with a book for mothers who’re expecting a Down syndrome child. Those are some of the things.
Q: And it’s largely funded by the coming walk?
A: Yes, our Buddy Walk on Oct. 13 out at Lane Southern Orchards on Ga. 96, west of Interstate 75 between the interstate and Fort Valley.
Q: What will that be like?
A: It’s about a half-mile walk fundraiser, but anyone can drop by and enjoy the day. We like participants to register in advance online, but you can do it there on the day. There’ll be a dozen or two tents with information and also bounce houses and other fun things. Anyone can come enjoy it, and, hey, if you want to donate, we won’t stop you. A lot of people stop by thinking it’s a fall festival. And oh, we have a dance contest. That’s a big deal. Some of our folks really get down and take the contest very seriously. It all starts at 10 (a.m.), and the walk is at noon.
Q: Best means of information and contact?
A: Go to www.ndss.org. That’s good, and there’s Buddy Walk details there, or go to our page at facebook.com. Search Middle Georgia Down Syndrome Society Support Group.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity.