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Four leaf CloverDown Syndrome Shapes Special People

Down syndrome is a special illness only special people have.

Down syndrome is recognized during the month of October to raise awareness for one of the leading genetic diseases in the world. Despite its debilitating characteristics, many people with Down syndrome are learning to adapt and overcome.


The Centers for Disease Control estimates the prevalence of Down syndrome is slowly increasing and currently affects one in about 700 live births. In 1866 Dr. John Langdon Down, an English physician, first described the characteristics of people living with the disease now named after him. His own grandson had Down syndrome. According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, in 1926 the life expectancy of an affected person was only 9 years. Today life expectancy is around 60 years. Additionally, with better education and methods, average IQ levels have also increased enabling many people with Down syndrome to do more, live on their own and become productive members of society.

Take the case of Tim Harris of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Since 2010 Tim has been the proud owner of Tim’s Place, a small restaurant where a guest’s breakfast or lunch comes with smiles and free hugs. Tim is a graduate of Eastern New Mexico University where he earned certificates in Food Service and Office Skills.

Karen Gaffney pursued academia after high school and received an Associates of Science Degree from Portland Community College.  Over the past few years she founded the Karen Gaffney Foundation to promote awareness of disabilities, especially of Down syndrome, a disease she has had to contend with her entire life. In addition to her activism she is an accomplished swimmer, having swam the English Channel as part of a relay team and swam the nine miles across Lake Tahoe to promote the National Down Syndrome Congress. This year Karen followed up her accomplishments by achieving something no other person living with Down syndrome has ever done when she was awarded an honorary doctorate from a university. On May 5, 2013 Karen received a Doctor of Humane Letters Honoris Causa from the University of Portland.

Brad Hennefer was a high school student in 2011 when he became the first person with Down syndrome to earn varsity letters in two sports- golf and basketball. As a three-point shooter he was instrumental in winning basketball games for the school, but he also excels in golf and helps teach the game to others.

Molly Bourke is not a national celebrity. Probably few people have heard of her. Molly’s biggest accomplishment is doing her job to the best of her ability. According to the National Association for Down Syndrome (NADS) Molly began working in Grand Food Center in Winnetka, Illinois as a bagger and shelf straightener. Despite her Down syndrome she performed her job so well she was promoted to cashier. Now some people say that they get in her line even when other lines are open!

These are just a few of the thousands of people with Down syndrome who are actively working to make our world better. Not only better for them, but better for those without Down syndrome too!


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