PHS teacher Todd Geren with daughter Hannah who has Rett syndrome. “Our experiences as a family have reminded me that God’s plan is not our own,” said Todd.
By Eileen Steinhauer
We all watch in wonder as a baby reaches one milestone after another, always eager to see more. But what if the milestones stop, practically overnight, what then? This is the story of the Geren family, Todd, Elizabeth, Hannah and Christian.
At just two years of age, Hannah Geren suddenly stopped reaching new milestones. In fact, she appeared to regress. “It seems like it happened in a week,” said Hannah’s father and Pickens High School English teacher Todd Geren. “She had always been a quiet baby without a lot of babbling, but suddenly she was not making any sounds at all.”
Now age 4, Hannah, whose favorite thing is to ride on the swing, according to her mom Elizabeth, is unable to talk or feed herself. Hannah has difficulty walking and responding to her name. She is dependent upon her family and teachers for everything.
Though her symptoms may sound familiar, her disorder is anything but. “Often times, when people hear of Hannah’s symptoms, they may think Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s Disease or Autism,” said the Gerens.
Although the symptoms may appear similar, what Hannah and the Geren family have been challenged, or blessed with, as they see it, is Rett syndrome. Almost exclusively affecting girls, Rett syndrome is an x-chromosome, genetic disorder that prevents the brain from continuing to mature. It took the Geren family a year and a half to get a proper diagnosis for Hannah; and, as they describe it, there were many emotions they encountered along the way.
“Our experiences as a family have reminded me that God’s plan is not our own,” said Todd. “Whatever comes our way in life is with His blessings. Hannah is one of our biggest blessings.”
Rett syndrome impacts 1 in every 10,000 female births world-wide. While often displaying constant motions with their hands, most girls diagnosed with Rett syndrome will need assistance for all daily activities throughout their lives. Although communication skills are limited, some girls with Rett Syndrome are able to learn how to use technology devices to communicate with their family members and friends.
After hearing Todd’s testimony at a recent Fellowship of Christian Athletes meeting at Pickens High School, faculty and staff members at PHS have started a fund to help the Geren family purchase a computer for Hannah.
Because of her limited mobility, the computer will allow Hannah to learn how to control a computer mouse with her eyes. Through the computer, Hannah will one day be able to indicate more easily that she is hungry or thirsty or simply needs a break. As of Monday night, the gofundme.com web-based fundraiser has raised $3,600 in just four days. Click here to visit their GoFundMe.com site where you can make a donation.
“Truly, our family is blessed beyond words and we cannot thank the people of the Pickens community enough,” said Todd and Elizabeth.
Although the Gerens live in Blue Ridge, the entire family comes to Pickens County every day during the week. Todd and Hannah leave at 6:15 a.m. every morning. Todd goes to the high school and Hannah goes to preschool in Pickens County. Elizabeth and Christian, age 2, come to pick Hannah up at preschool at 10:45 a.m.
“Hannah and our entire family have been blessed with amazing teachers,” said the Gerens. “It has been through their help that we are learning more about the programs and technology available for Hannah.”
Although the Gerens are thankful for the help and support they are receiving, they are quick to point out that there are so many others that need help. “Prayer is the number one thing that is needed for all children with challenges and their families,” the Gerens said. “Whether it be Rett syndrome or another disorder, families need to know that they are not alone.”
They also want people to know that there are many girls just like Hannah. Although Rett syndrome is not widely known, according to the rettsyndrome. org website it is 2 to 3 times more common than phenylketonuria (PKU), a disorder for which all newborns in the United States are tested.
To find out more about Rett syndrome or to help further research about Rett syndrome, go to rettsyndrome.org