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Helping Shaken Babies

Second Annual Tot Trot Fund-Raiser is May 4

Olivia Adelmann was the light of her parents' life — she still is. But her life was radically altered when, at 5 months old, she was violently shaken and permanently injured by a child-care provider.

Now 4 1/2, she's blind in her left eye — her retina was completely detached — and has little use of her right arm. And because her entire brain was damaged, she's developmentally delayed in all areas.

"It's a huge adjustment," said her mother, Andrea Adelmann of Fair Lakes Forest. "You picture life a certain way, and then that whole image is shattered. But we concentrated on her healing and recovery to maximize her potential so she could be the best she could be."

Adelmann became involved with the national, nonprofit, Shaken Baby Alliance, an information and support group composed of victims' families plus medical and legal professionals. And Saturday, May 4, at 10 a.m., will be the second annual Tot Trot, to raise money for the Alliance (SBA). It's a 1/10th-mile walk-a-thon for infants, toddlers children and parents around the parking circle next to the Joseph Willard Health Department, 3750 Old Lee Hwy. in Fairfax City.

Cost is $12/child or $17/family and includes a child's T-shirt and refreshments. Rain date is May 11. Participants may either obtain pledges per lap or make flat donations. To register, call 703-222-2421.

SBA offers scholarships for family members to attend informational conferences; fosters prevention through education — helping train child-care providers, investigators and prosecutors and raise public awareness through billboards and brochures in hospitals; and advocates for tougher penalties for child-abusers, plus laws mandating training of child-care providers and information available in hospitals about Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS).

"The largest number of perpetrators are fathers and boyfriends, and then child-care providers," said Adelmann. "People don't realize how often it happens. It's a tragic and very violent form of child-abuse that's quite preventable."

Sponsoring the Tot Trot is Step-By-Step Pediatric Therapy Services Inc. of Centreville, owned by physical therapist Bonnie Kandel, who's worked with Olivia about 2 1/2 years. When they first met, Olivia was 2 and not yet walking by herself.

"Her right arm is more affected than all her other limbs, so she had a hard time crawling," said Kandel. "It also affects her fine-motor and daily-living skills, such a feeding herself, going to the bathroom and getting dressed and undressed."

Olivia eventually began walking and learned to climb up and down stairs and jump in place, over things and from a certain height. "Now she runs, jumps and hops, and we're playing soccer with her — she loves to play ball," said Kandel. Still, there are limitations. "She recently got glasses to protect her right eye — because if she loses that, she has no sight. And her depth perception and peripheral vision are affected; she has to turn her head to see things on the side."

Olivia's father, Andy Adelmann, 37, is in the Secret Service, assigned to protect the president, and that's what he was doing when his daughter was injured. Andrea, also 37, was a hotel controller with Marriott International, and had just returned to work from maternity leave. "It was Olivia's fourth day in daycare," she said. The Herndon woman who did the deed was convicted in December 1998 in Fairfax County Circuit Court and, after a failed appeal, she's now serving a three-year prison sentence.

The Adelmanns now have a son, too, Kyle, 1, and focus all their energies on their children. Olivia is developmentally delayed about two years, but her parents and professionals are working hard with her.

Her hand movement and coordination are affected so that, although she runs, it's with an awkward gait. "She doesn't have good balance," said her mother. "At the playground, she can't climb up the jungle gym because she doesn't have strength in her right arm. And she can throw and catch a ball — just not as coordinated as other kids her age."

Olivia's speech is just slightly delayed, and she has a good vocabulary. But her cognitive skills are affected, making her slower at understanding and following directions. She needs extra, one-on-one support and instruction, so she attends Greenbriar East Elementary's special-education preschool, two mornings a week.

While there, she also receives physical and occupational therapy. "It's her second year and she loves it," said Andrea Adelmann. "She's very social. She also attends Centreville Preschool Inc., two mornings a week, to interact with peers [without disabilities] and have role models of typical preschoolers."

Physical therapy used to be weekly, then bi-weekly and now its monthly. Olivia works on her balance, coordination and strength. "Her right arm will never be as strong as her left," said Adelmann. "She probably would have been right-handed, but now she's a forced lefty." Kandel says Olivia uses her right arm mainly for assistance: "If I ask her for a high-five, she does it with her left hand."

Weekly occupational therapy concentrates on fine-motor skills, teaching Olivia to color, draw, make alphabet letters, use scissors, etc. — all the skills she'll need for school. She also receives hippotherapy — therapeutic horseback riding — at the Rainbow Center in Nokesville. She goes weekly, attending three, six-week sessions a year, spring through fall.

"They're full-size horses, not ponies, and she loves being on horseback," said Adelmann. "It works on her trunk control and balance and even helped her learn to walk, because a horse's gait is similar to a human's."

Overall, Olivia is one busy little girl. She also attends Danceabilities Ltd. at the Greenbriar Community Center. Said Adelmann: "It's a dance class for kids with disabilities and works on her balance and coordination. You end up finding out a lot of information and opportunities from other parents of disabled children."

Like any other child, though, Olivia also likes to do things just for fun. She loves to look at books and be read to, and she enjoys watching Barney, Arthur and Wiggles videos. She likes making things with Play-Doh, coloring with markers, decorating with stickers and being outside — going to the playground, swinging on the swings and riding her tricycle. And she has great fun spending time with her cousins and grandparents.

Although life can be a struggle for her, Olivia is well-loved. But her parents hope to raise as much money as possible at the Tot Trot to prevent what happened to her from happening to other children. For more information, see www.shakenbaby.com or call 1-877-6ENDSBS.