Willmar Notebook: Catching Up with Megan
Dean Stier and younger sister Brooke were 4 and 2 years old when their little sister Megan was born. Megan was a sickly child weighing only 11 pounds at 6 months.
Complicating a weak heart, she fought a respiratory infection her first winter. Her parents, Mark and Lynn, spent a month sharing time at the infant's beside at Rice Hospital. Neighbors, friends, relatives and co-workers helped the Stiers through those difficult days, noted in this column 14 years ago this spring.
Megan had open heart surgery at six months; then, a second surgery repairing a defective valve.
The heart abnormalities are common in children born with Down syndrome.
Mark and Lynn didn't spend much time thinking about their daughter's disability in the first year.
"We were so focused on keeping her alive," Lynn told me in the Stier's living room.
Dean, now a senior, sat on an easy chair; Brooke, a junior, sat on the couch near her mother, director of the Rice Rehab Center. It was Friday and the Willmar Senior High prom was in the evening.
Mark, a sixth-grade math teacher and the Cardinals baseball coach, and Megan, an eighth-grader, were at the middle school. Megan would be going the ARC Spring Dance the next night.
Megan joined the Cardinals swimming and diving team this fall. It was an uplifting experience for her and her parents. She was warmly received by coaches and teammates. She dove (feet first) in every JV meet at home but her parents thought it best their daughter not travel to away meets.
Dean is a three-sport athlete and the school's nominee for the top male athlete in the area, this paper's Hengstler-Ranweiler award, a 50-year-old tradition.
I asked Dean what are his youngest sister's favorite things?
"She loves watching TV, especially Disney movies. She loves the water, tubing and taking bike rides with Mom," he said. "She likes to go out for treats at Dairy Queen and being with family and friends."
But there are times when she needs to be alone, like all of us, she can be stubborn, the big brother adds.
Mark told me after one game this spring he knows it's going to be particularly hard on Megan when Dean goes off to college (at South Dakota State to study nursing on a career path to nurse/anesthetist).
"She enjoys going to his games," said the coach.
Especially basketball, added Lynn during our visit.
In the Cardinals' gym Megan had the freedom to go to the concession stand alone. She can move about the gym to visit with Dean's and Brooke's friends, who were so kind to her, I'm told.
Brooke was in dance and gymnastics through the grades; she plays saxophone in the pep band. She and Megan shop, share makeup and do one another's hair and nails.
Lynn said Brooke has a gift, a patience for working one-on-one with Megan.
"Brooke will show Megan how to do it and then make her do it," said Lynn. "I'll get antsy but Brooke will say, 'Just wait! She'll do it.' "
Megan, 14, is in Special Olympics track and field.
Typical of Down syndrome, she is smaller than her classmates and her motor, language and intellectual development are delayed. But a loving home, education and a positive attitude in the community can make all the difference, according to a pamphlet distributed by the National Down Syndrome Congress.
Megan started a job this spring. She works one hour a week watering plants and doing other tasks at Stacy's Nursery on the east side of the city. During Megan's first shift her mother hovered near by. The next time Megan told her mom to "Go away!"
The experience of growing up with a sibling with a disability has made Brooke and Dean more sensitive to the plight of others.
"Brooke is the kind of person that will find that kid in the cafeteria eating lunch alone and sit down with them," said her mom. "I don't believe either Brooke or Dean are judgmental."
As for Dean, "Whether it has something to do with a disability or not, I always root for the underdog, in and out of sports," he said.
I had asked Lynn if it is a special challenge to raise a special needs child? She replied "not really." A little later, after further thought, she responded in an email: "There are just different challenges that we face with Megan than with Dean or Brooke. With Megan, we don't have the worries if she will be safe and smart when hangin' out with friends [or], driving a car. We believe she will choose the path in life that we have laid out for her [while] Dean and Brooke may swerve off that path one or more times. We do worry about the services available to Megan and if she will still get the services she needs in the future. It really all balances out; the challenges are just different. For all of our children, we just want them to make good choices, be happy in whatever they do, and have faith in themselves to be able to accomplish their dreams."