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Assistance with son's care helps Sunburg family live a normal life

SUNBURG -- By his second birthday, Angela Sondrol already knew that her son's aggressive behavior represented more than his being a "naughty kid.''

She sought help for him in every direction to no avail. As a single parent, she moved in with her parents for help with his care. "It almost ripped the family apart,'' said Sondrol, explaining that her son's behaviors only worsened as he aged.

But help eventually came, thanks to the children's mental health program that led to a psychiatrist and a diagnosis revealing her son's struggles with bipolar disorder.

Today, medications help stabilize his moods, and Sondrol has discovered that her 8-year-old son, Ryan, is a "very, very smart'' boy who can do well in school and relate well with others his age.

But Ryan's mental health needs are continuous. The medications that have made such a big difference in his life cost $25,000 a year, and he needs constant supervision and structure in his day.

Sondrol is now married. She and her husband, Jeremy, credit the help they receive from personal care attendants provided through Country Care Services of rural Dawson with making it possible for them to manage their lives and give Ryan the care and love he needs.

Sondrol is an office manager at PALS in Willmar, and said she couldn't work out of the home were it not for the help of a personal care attendant.

She said the KMS Schools deserve an award for the quality of care they provide her son.

But the help of a personal care attendant is critical when school is not in session and parents are working. An attendant accompanies him to a structured day care and other activities. And, there are times on weekends when a personal care attendant can be called to give her a breather and time for other duties.

Sondrol said children with severe mental health disabilities need care, simple as that. There is no better place to provide it than in a home setting with the family as the focus.

She is concerned that cuts that would limit the services of personal care attendants could force families to turn to institutional care for children with mental health needs.

"It's pay now or pay later,'' she said in reference to the far greater costs that institutional care would represent.

The debate over personal care services is really all about the lives of people, said Sondrol. Those needing the help are people who have conditions they cannot control or help. "What it comes down to is we're cutting those who have disabilities,'' she said.