She's beaten the odds
Article and photos courtesy of the Monadnock Ledger Transcript
When Amy Olson was born, doctors told her family that she would likely be deaf, blind, unable to walk, and would need a feeding tube to eat. There was even a chance that she wouldn’t survive past infancy.
Olson’s prognosis was a result of being diagnosed with Charge syndrome – a genetic disorder affecting one in 8,000 to 10,000 births that causes hearing and vision loss, balance problems, heart and esophageal defects, CHD7 gene mutations, and other health problems. The initial outlook was grim, but Olson – who turned 21 on Saturday – has not only overcome many of the medical issues that doctors said would hinder her quality of life but is also taking steps toward living a more independent life.
“Ms. Amy has shown them all, she’s exceeding all expectations,” said mother Kerrie DellaLucca, in an interview Thursday. “I’m proud of the young lady that she’s become. I look forward to seeing her sprout her wings.”
A major step in Olson’s independence came Thursday, when she graduated from Conant High School’s Intensive Learning Center (ILC) – a program that helps the most at-risk students in the community by helping to develop basic academic, independent living, and transitional skills.
Olson has been a member of the program for the past six-and-a-half years and has been with the Jaffrey-Rindge School District since she was three. Students in the program are permitted to stay up until their 21st birthday, per special education laws.
“I want to stay here for at least another 20 years,” said Olson, in an interview prior to the ceremony. “I wish I could stay until I was an old lady with wrinkles on my face.”
Olson said she has enjoyed her time in the school district because her peers and teachers made her feel like just another student. Olson participated in yearbook club, drama club, went to prom, and was a cheerleader in her tenure at the school. She also walked in cap and gown with her peers in 2015.
“I love that the other kids have never bullied me,” said Olson, who currently works at Rite-Aid in Jaffrey. “I don’t like bad, mean people.”
Faith Jarest, program coordinator with the ILC, said Thursday that she first met Olson when she was about five. When thinking back upon her time with Olson, Jarest said many of her favorite memories involve Olson complimenting those around her.
“It’s typical Amy; she’s a ray of sunshine,” said Jarest. “It’s not unusual for her to walk around and give people wonderful comments. She’s such a character.”
Olson’s charitable ways extended beyond her compliments and warmth during Thursday’s ceremony, as she was able to present a $100 donation to the Community Volunteer Transportation Company, an organization that provides “no-fee” transportation to people who do not have access to transportation for a number of limiting circumstances.
Jarest said every student graduating out of the ILC has an opportunity to make a donation – with funds raised from the school store – to an organization that gives back to the community in some way. Olson made the decision to donate to CVTC because of her love of riding on school buses, a love fostered by her mother working for the school district’s bus company, Community Transportation LLC.
“There will be an empty spot at the table, but I know she’s ready for the next step,” said Jarest. “I’ve worked with Amy since she was little, so it’s going to be hard not to see her face, but I know it’s time for her to move on to her next adventure.”
The next adventure, according to DellaLucca, is for Olson to move onto a full-day community program, Community Strategies of New Hampshire. The Keene-based organization will help Olson with transportation, finding employment, enrolling in college classes and more.
DellaLucca said her daughter has talked about being a paraprofessional with a school district’s special education program so that she can help others in the same way that she has been helped along in the past 18 years.
“She’s such a warm and loving person; she’s the first person to tell you how beautiful you look,” said DellaLucca. “This has been such an amazing experience and I really can’t say enough about it. To see her so happy, and to see her grow so much, it’s been amazing.”