Olivia Adelmann is a loving, good-natured, 5-year-old whose mother describes her as happy and charming. Unfortunately, the words "shaken baby" also apply.
When she was 5 months old, a child-care provider shook her violently, damaging her brain and right arm and detaching a retina, blinding her left eye. "She will always be developmentally delayed and will have a lifetime of disabilities," said her mother, Andrea Adelmann of Fair Lakes Forest.
So to help Olivia and others like her, the third annual Tot Trot will be held Saturday, May 3, at 10 a.m. in the parking circle between the Joseph Willard Health Department and the Belle Willard Administration Building at 3750 Old Lee Highway in Fairfax. Babies, children, adults, strollers, etc., are welcome to walk, be pushed or carried along a 1/10-mile track. To help in any way, call 703-222-2421.
Through pledges, participants will receive $1/lap; donations are also accepted. Registration is $15/tot or $17/family, including a child's commemorative T-shirt. Walk-in registrations are fine. All proceeds benefit The Shaken Baby Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising public awareness, supporting victim families and advocating for justice for the victims of Shaken Baby Syndrome — a tragic and preventable form of child abuse.
THE SHAKEN BABY ALLIANCE and Step by Step Pediatric Therapy Services — run by Centre Ridge physical therapist Bonnie Kandel — sponsor the event. "A few years ago, I was looking for a good cause to sponsor," said Kandel. "When I met Olivia, I couldn't think of a better cause."
Olivia's father, Andy, 38, is in the Secret Service, assigned to protect the president, and he was doing that when his daughter was injured. Andrea, 37, was a hotel controller with Marriott International and had just returned to work from maternity leave.
It was Olivia's fourth day in the care of a Herndon woman when the tragedy occurred. The woman was convicted in December 1998 and, after eventually serving three years in prison, she was released March 14. Olivia, however, was marred for life. Said her mother: "April 30 marks the five-year anniversary."
She was not quite 2 when Kandel began working with her. By the time she stopped, in September, Olivia was walking, running, could walk up and down stairs and could jump. "Those were our big goals when we started," said Kandel. "I wanted to make sure she was as functional and independent as possible."
An average child jumps at age 2, she said, but Olivia couldn't until between ages 3 1/2 and 4. Because of her injury, explained Kandel, "The messages that get sent from her brain aren't 'clear-wired,' anymore."
Now Olivia is working on re-learning how to use her right arm, strengthen it and maintain its range of motion. She no longer receives private physical therapy, but receives it at Greenbriar East Special Ed Preschool. She also has occupational therapy there and with one of Kandel's employees.
"This is her third year of preschool and, in the fall, she'll be in regular and special-ed kindergarten at Greenbriar West Elementary," said Andrea Adelmann. "She has a good vocabulary and is articulate, but she has trouble with abstract ideas. So far, she has good aptitude in preschool math and counting, but she'll need extra help with reading and spelling. And she has some problems with her short-term memory and ability to remember details."
PHYSICALLY, OLIVIA CAN'T CLIMB on a jungle gym; she's not as coordinated as other children her age and can't run as fast. "She has trouble with team sports because she has problems keeping up," said Adelmann. "And cognitively, it takes her longer to process information. Directions have to be repeated more than once so — whether she's in a school or a play setting — her reaction time is slower."
Because of the blindness in her left eye, Olivia has difficulty with letters and has no peripheral vision on that side, so she must turn to look at things. "It affects her depth perception and her balance," said Adelmann. "We don't yet know the [full] extent of the damage in her brain as it affects her vision."
Still, she loves looking at books and having them read to her, and she likes the children's singing group, "The Wiggles," on TV. She and her brother Kyle, 2, adore each other and, said Adelmann, "Olivia takes good care of him — she's very nurturing and caring." She also enjoys visiting friends and cousins, likes music and loves going outside to kick a ball and play catch.
"It's not the life that I had pictured," said Adelmann. "But we accepted, early on, to make the best of what we have and give her whatever she needs to be the best she can be."
Her family will participate in the Tot Trot and hopes for a huge turnout. "We're trying to prevent future [shaken-baby] cases," she said. "We want people to be aware of how often this happens and what a terrible tragedy it is — yet how preventable." For more information, see www.shakenbaby.com or call 1-877-6ENDSBS.