Abby and Julie’s Story

Julie’s daughter, Abby, is adventurous and courageous. She’s usually the first in her family and her peers to try new and daring things. These are all traits that served Abby well throughout her healing process.

Abby came to Special Kids in 2005 when she was four years old after suffering a stroke that was a result of an e. Coli infection which developed into Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS). HUS is a condition caused by the abnormal destruction of red blood cells. While at Special Kids, Abby received physical, occupational, speech, and feeding therapies and she has attended our summer program, Camp Ability in the past as well. She also participated in “Hoofbeats,” horse therapy program, when it was operating.

Abby’s mom Julie shares, “Initially, Abby was paralyzed on her right side, she could not walk or sit up, she could not use her right hand, she could not speak, drink, or eat, and she was blind. She spent four weeks in Vanderbilt Children’s hospital battling and recovering from the initial infection and five weeks in Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s inpatient rehabilitation unit recovering from the effects of the stroke. Her cognitive abilities were not impaired. She is in good health today and is still working to overcome the effects of the stroke. Her speech remains a work in progress. She can communicate clearly enough to function at school and in most environments. She writes left handed and is doing well academically. Abby’s sight/vision began to return not long after she came to Special Kids (she surprised us all one day by identifying the colors of the balls in the ball pit!). She recently had another dramatic increase in vision in her right eye (going from 20/500 to 20/30) following surgery to correct a muscle weakness issue. Her peripheral vision is yet to return fully in both eyes, but we are hopeful for more miraculous improvements and full restoration of her vision and speech.”

By the time Abby came to Special Kids, she had regained gross motor function in her right side and was able to walk. However, she was still unable to use her right hand, unable to eat, drink, or speak, she had a G-tube for feeding, and she was still blind. “One of the first goals for Abby was to work on her swallowing and fine motor skills in her right and left hands, so she could eat Thanksgiving dinner at the table with our family. She met that goal, not only eating dinner with us, but began to be able to feed herself. Her G-tube was removed the following January. She continued to recover strength in her fine motor skills and speech to the point that she was able to decrease therapy at Special Kids and focus on therapies related to school work. She is currently homeschooled, is going into her Junior year, and is enrolled in a class at MTSU this fall. All in all, her attitude and overall health remain strong. Abby aspires to be a model and an author and has written many short stories and keeps a journal of thoughts and quotes that reflect her views about life,” says Julie.

Julie lastly shares, “Special Kids meant so much more to us than therapy and recovery for Abby. Special Kids became the family through which support, comfort, love, and the encouragement we needed was provided. It was a time and place of tremendous growth and strengthening for us (for me especially). My hope for Abby’s future healing, as well as, the other children and families ministered to by Special Kids, remains strong. I have always been aware of and thankful for the blessing that Special Kids is to our community. So many of the children and families we met early on in our journey were not as fortunate as we were to have a place like Special Kids nearby. Special Kids is beautiful expression of God’s grace at work among us.”

- Julie Byrnes


In 2001, I felt like I couldn’t add anything to my life. I was married with 3 active children and working full-time. A postcard came in the mail inviting me to participate in Team ASK for the County Music half-marathon. Though I was a runner at the time, my runs consisted of 3 miles 3 days a week, so increasing to 13.1 miles – at the age of 42 – seemed a formidable challenge. Several times over the next few weeks I picked up that postcard to put it in the trash, but something always stopped me. I talked to my husband about how I wanted to do the race but just wasn’t sure that I could manage to find time for the training, and he gave his normal supportive response – “Whatever you want to do is fine by me.” My son, who was 13 at the time, overheard our conversation, and came to me later that evening to say that I should sign up for Team ASK. His rationale? That I had always told him and his sisters that they could do anything they wanted, and that besides, I’d better do it before I got too old! Sure enough, when I went to the interest meeting, I was the oldest one there, but I was not deterred. To the contrary, I was energized by what I learned about Special Kids and the organization’s mission. I fundraised and ran several events for Team ASK over the next few years, and I was blessed by getting to know the Special Kids I ran for as well as their families. Whenever possible, I included my own children; they came to pasta dinners and races. I hope that my efforts helped the children of Special Kids, but I am confident that I was blessed by my efforts. My blessings were multiplied when many years later my youngest daughter, Abby, worked at the summer Special Kids camps. Abby was inspired by her experiences to have a career serving people with special needs.

- Paula Thomas


I personally do not have a special needs child but I am a teacher of special needs children. I have had many students over the years that have had services at Special Kids. Every single child made HUGE strides. One child sticks out in my mind. This child is a non-verbal student with autism. For many years he had no outlet to speak. He had no way of telling us what he needed or wanted. Special Kids worked with this child on using an iPad to communicate. Within just a few weeks of him using it he was able to type full sentences expressing his needs and wants. He was able to tell us when he didn’t feel good and what was hurting. He was able to tell us what he wanted for lunch instead of pointing. He was able to choose his snack without pointing. He was able to tell us when he was frustrated and just wanted to be left alone. He was able to follow a daily schedule using his iPad. He was able to tell us when he needed to go to the bathroom. He was able to greet people. He was able to say his full name just by typing it on his iPad. I could go on and on about what he could do but that would be a really long list. I owe it all to Special Kids for the success that this child has. I was able to team up with Special Kids so I could carry out what he was doing in my classroom. Special Kids will always have a Special place in my heart. Thank you Special Kids!!!

- Emily Romine


My daughter has received therapy at SK since she was 2. She is currently 10 years old and receiving occupational therapy once a week. She has also received speech and physical therapy at SK in the past. Isabella has faced many physical and mental challenges during her life but she always has a smile on her face. After 10 years of searching for a diagnosis we were recently blessed to be accepted into a nationwide genetic study. From this study we were able to learn that Isabella has a genetic disorder that only 30 people worldwide have been diagnosed with. Hopefully this information will help us guide her through her health challenges in the future. We are so grateful to SK for being a source of guidance and strength for her. Their encouragement has made a difference in our family's life.

- Marie Patterson


My son is a current patient and has been for about a year and a half. At 2 years of age he was saying only 2 words and we were so scared. I was sure he’d never speak. After our evaluation and first few therapy sessions, I’d ask “Is there hope?” I was always told absolutely. Wyatt is now 3 and talking nonstop! He’s done so well. He loves Special Kids and knows he’s there to work and have fun. He will soon graduate therapy because he’s doing so great. His younger brother is being evaluated and I know he’ll do just as well. I have complete faith and trust with everyone at Special Kids!

-Nina Sissom


We found out about Camp Ability in it's 2nd year of operation. Keith went the month of June because his big brother was doing a mission trip and wasn't available to watch him. The next year, he went both sessions and loved every minute. Keith looked forward to camp all year long because it was a fun and special time with his friends. Special children do not have the opportunity for camps like typical children and Camp Ability has put the FUN into every summer activity possible at Camp Ability. Thank you to the staff at Camp Ability. Thank you for an excellent program to give children a fun summer experience and a VBS experience some have never been involved in before. May God continue to bless this program and may you continue to give summer fun to Special Children. Keith still misses coming to camp and he's been out several years now. That's the lasting impact you've had on Special Children! Thank you.

-Rita Ivey


Whenever I am in the presence of a Special Kids Event, I am completely enthralled. I have been involved by my company performing a remodel of the office. I have attended the Ground Breaking for the new Nursing Building. I had my office tour the facility. I have attended many fundraisers. My company has sponsored the annual Golf Tournament.
Each and every time I am blessed by the smiles, laughter, hugs, joy, and commitment of the staff. This place is purely magical.

 - Courtney Yates