#MiracleMonday – Meet Charlotte!

On a warm summer afternoon, Charlotte Cohen was sitting in the lobby of Children’s Specialized Hospital in Toms River (at Lakehurst Road) playing with a toy that resembled a roller coaster with beads. With her older brother, Jimmy, 13, and sister, Samantha, 10, at her side, Charlotte intricately placed each colorful bead on the loopy wires. Happy as could be, her fun was just beginning. Seconds later, Charlotte’s occupational therapist Nichole Turmelle walked into the lobby and Charlotte burst with laughter running into Nichole’s arms, smiling bright. Although she was meeting Nichole for a therapy session, Charlotte was about to have a different kind of fun.

At four-years-old, Charlotte is living with Down Syndrome, a genetic condition she was born with that affects physical growth, facial features, and intellectual abilities. Before her diagnosis of Down Syndrome, during a routine ultrasound prior to Charlotte’s birth, it was discovered that Charlotte had a heart condition, a common complication of children living with Down Syndrome. At just two-months-old, Charlotte underwent surgery to repair and create a fourth chamber of her heart, and soon after began receiving therapy at Children’s Specialized Hospital.

“I started working with Charlotte when she was three-months-old; she had just undergone heart surgery,” says Erin Alspach, Physical Therapist at Children’s Specialized Hospital. “The family wanted to improve her strength, balance, head control and motor skills. By one-year-old, Charlotte was pulling up to stand and playing in a standing position.”

At such a young age, Charlotte was ready to conquer every challenge that she faced and was growing stronger every day. Charlotte has been a patient of Children’s Specialized Hospital receiving occupational, physical, and speech therapies regularly. But for Charlotte, her therapies are merely a means for her to have fun.

“She was strong willed from the beginning, but could always win you over with her smile,” says Mary Dorsi, Speech Language Pathologist at Children’s Specialized Hospital.

Matching her fun personality to her motivated mentality, Charlotte continues her progress. “Charlotte’s posture is much better and her grasp on a pencil has improved,” says Jim and Jenifer, Charlotte’s parents. “And getting dressed, she’ll often put on more than one item at a time, like at soccer practice when she took all the pinnies and put them on!”

While Charlotte’s therapy sessions are focused on her improvements and growth, her therapists partner with the whole family in order to help Charlotte achieve her highest potential. Therapy doesn’t end at her sessions, but continues into her home activities.

“You can’t speak about Charlotte without speaking about the entire Cohen family,” explains Ellen Brennan, Physical Therapist at Children’s Specialized Hospital. “Every week, Jen and Jim come in with reports on the progress that Charlotte made with her weekly home activity and present a new concern for me to assess and address. The family goes home with a new activity

(and I mean the FAMILY… it is a team effort) and I’m confident that Charlotte will come back a week later stronger and more advanced.”

A mix of successful therapy sessions and a dedicated family encouraging Charlotte, made for an abundance of improvements. “She made phenomenal progress in the time I worked with her, in large part to her hard work, a supportive family that carried over all the recommendations and home activities, and a fun and exciting therapy environment,” echoes Erin. “Her therapy involved the whole family and everyone was so encouraging and motivated to help Charlotte any way they could. They truly were an inspiration to me.”

For Charlotte, the involvement of her brother and sister is instrumental in her development. “Her therapists always include her siblings in therapy no matter,” explains Jenifer. “They will ask Jimmy and Samantha to encourage Charlotte.”

“Jimmy and Sammie were crucial to my sessions,” says Ellen. “Either or both helped to motivate Charlotte in whichever challenge we were presenting and in doing so became skilled in challenging her at home. I would never have gotten as far, as fast without the entire family on board.”

Going above and beyond to help her sister, “we will model things and then she copies us,” says Samantha of attending Charlotte’s therapy sessions.

Things learned in therapy aren’t the only thing Charlotte copies. When she is not in therapy or at preschool, Charlotte continues to have fun on a soccer field, taking karate lessons, enjoying a swing, playing with her dollhouse, coloring, and especially at dance classes.

“Charlotte copies her sister’s dances for the recital and she will go in and dance with the big girls,” says Jenifer with a smile.

Whether with her ballerina shoes and tutu or learning and growing in therapy sessions, Charlotte is undoubtedly a four-year-old who epitomizes having fun. With her parents’ ultimate hopes and dreams for Charlotte to be happy and independent, Charlotte’s bubbly personality will lead the way.

“She has fun – that’s a day in the life of Charlotte,” says Jim.

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