My son, Jai Srinivasan, is six years old and a pediatric stroke survivor. As a result, the left side of his body is weak, so physical therapy is a daily routine for him. People think that strokes usually affect adults, but they can also happen to kids. Most people cannot imagine the things that Jai experiences.
Jai had a stroke around birth but it was months before we knew anything was wrong. It was very difficult to watch other babies achieve their developmental milestones at playdates and at parks while Jai struggled to find his way. At eleven months old we found out he had cerebral palsy from multiple strokes and I cried for days maybe weeks. It was so hard to hear that your perfect baby you dreamt about your entire life has cerebral palsy. Because of it, he was unable to walk at the time most toddlers learn. He also had problems with left sided weakness, swallowing, eating, constipation and vomiting. After the initial grieving period I pulled the strength I have shown throughout my life to embrace my new role as a special needs mother. We traveled across the country and met Dr. Park, a renowned Neurosurgeon at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Dr. Park performed a Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) spinal surgery on Jai. It took several months to recover and many hours of rehab. Thankfully, at age three Jai was able to walk, but only with close assistance. Over the next two years he continued to have therapy five times a week to strengthen his body so that he could learn to balance and walk by himself. Jai worked with physical therapists, occupational therapists and of course his doctors. He even met an incredible personal trainer from Scotland named Mike who has dedicated his life to helping kids just like Jai.
Interestingly, not all of Jai’s therapists are human. One is a horse named Freckles at the Sprout Therapeutic Riding Center in Aldie, VA. Freckles helps Jai to strengthen his core muscles and improve the use of his left hand, all by learning to horseback ride. Because of help from Freckles, today Jai is able to walk with the help of braces and with much improved balance. Although he can walk independently, Jai walks with a very noticeable limp that people often react to with comments like. “Did he get hurt? Is he OK?” I worry that because of his limp, people may make uninformed assumptions about other aspects of his abilities. They are truly mistaken.
Actually, Jai’s good fortune in life is that everything is indeed OK and he lives his life to its fullest! Jai learns from engaging in many extra-curricular activities. For example, he plays golf with one hand, and through determination, he is actively working on his goal of making it to the Drive, Chip, and Putt contest at the Masters in Augusta. As a chess player, Jai knows that it is his mind and positive attitude that matter most in personal accomplishment. In Tae Kwon Do, he learns that the perfection of certain movements comes down to repetition and attention to detail.
While all of these things have helped Jai personally, he still struggles with the daily task of dressing independently. It can take up to 45 minutes to maneuver typical clothing. I hoped there were other options and was thrilled to learn about Runway of Dreams, a company that partners with mainstream brands to adapt current clothing lines to meet the needs of people with disabilities. By replacing buttons with magnets and offering seams that open and close to accommodate braces, Jai can dress himself quickly and look great in stylish clothes Yes, Jai has differences, but like any other kid, he wants to wear the latest fashions and feel good about how he looks – Runway of Dreams has made that possible!
We were so excited about the clothes and the difference they made for Jai, that we made a journey to New York City from Virginia last year to attend the Runway of Dreams Foundation inaugural Gala and meet the visionary designer, Mindy Scheier, who founded Runway of Dreams and the Runway of Dreams Foundation. The Gala was a fundraiser for the Foundation, a nonprofit that develops, delivers and supports charitable initiatives to broaden the reach of adaptive clothing and promote the differently-abled community in the fashion industry. We were so inspired by the event that we wanted Jai to become involved.
This year, Jai was featured as one of the runway models at the Runway of Dreams Foundation 2nd Annual Gala in NYC. His sister, Ivy, was so proud to see her big brother up on stage–to her he is perfect! As you can see in the photos below, Jai had an amazing time representing Runway of Dreams that evening. We are so proud of Jai and given this experience, he has expressed interest in modeling in the future. Without Runway of Dreams and the Runway of Dreams Foundation he would never have had the confidence or courage to walk the runway and become a model. As a representative of Runway of Dreams, Jai is able to communicate empowerment and confidence through the clothing he wears. Although he appears different on the surface, he enjoys the same things that everyone else does. Fashion is changing and Jai wants to be part of that change. Recently Jai has even signed with an agent and hopes to continue to spread the word that everyone has different abilities!
As his mother, I have learned so much from Jai. When Jai walks in a room it always seems brighter as his smile is so contagious. Jai taught me to not worry about the things he can’t do but focus on the things he enjoys. I will always believe in Jai, support his dreams and work hard every day to help him achieve them!