Meet Our Special-Needs Parent of the Day (2016 winner list!)

Throughout the month of July, friends and family members were invited to nominate a special-needs parents of the day to receive a free gift from our sponsors! Each day in August we’ll announce a new winner. At the end of August, we’ll match up the winners with gifts we think they will love.
parent of the day
August 1st
Winner: Terri Kussero Nominated by: Jackie Sherrill
Why: “Terri is a wonderful Mother to her special needs Daughter. She goes above and beyond to try to get the services needed. She knows that the road is full of bumps, but she does not complain about health issues that can get in the way. She finds ways to balance her life and family. Although I do not get to see or visit her, I always know she is a shoulder to cry on and understands the life we have both have been blessed with. She is an inspiration to people who have no idea what life is like with special needs children.”

August 2nd
Winner: Carrie Jones Nominated by: Nicole Linn
Why: “Hello! I would love to nominate Carrie Jones. She, along with her husband Brandon, have a darling 4 year old girl named Indie Rose. Indie was born with Angelman’s syndrome. AS is a neurological disorder which causes severe developmental and intellectual disabilities, seizures, and sleep disturbances. Indie Rose sleeps only an hour or two on average a night. In addition to the Angelman’s syndrome, Indie also cannot eat, she must be fed through a tube. Indie also has 17 dead spots in her brain. She just had her second brain surgery to drain the fluid. Carrie and Brandon deal with so much and yet they still have such love and patience with their kids and each other. Even through all of the hospital visits and brain surgeries, they have hope and humor. Carrie doesn’t have a lot and I know this recognization and encouragement would mean so much to her.”

August 3rd
Winner: Monica Smith Nominated by: Seth Smith
Why: “I have watched my wife Monica set up our son with autism for greatness! She is always working with him and helping him to enter our world and if there is a day he has trouble doing that I will find her in his room under the covers with him watching videos or playing Minecraft as she enters his world! She is always offering a hand to other special needs moms and her phone can ring at any time with questions that if she doesn’t know the answer to she will walk beside the mom till the answer is there and a solution has been found!
One day per week she has started a play date with other autism families. They come together and do art projects, swim, go bowling! The joy the children (and other moms and siblings) enjoy is so worth it to her! I have come home from work to so many wonderful things the children have created! I have heard of wonderful “adult” conversations that were had while the children swam or painted.
Monica reminds me of an agent of change.. She wants to make the world a more accepting place for people with special needs. She is our son’s super hero (and mine to) …(I know I’ve seen a cape somewhere)”

August 4th
Winner: Stacy Taylor Nominated by: Danielle Young
Why: “Stacy is a great person. Once she became a Mom, she became AWESOME! She has four lovely children, two are special needs. Marshall and Sam are two strong, determined, stubborn and funny kids! Marshall may have speech and hearing issues, but boy does he LOVE to talk. Sam has a smile that will melt your heart. So be careful. The Taylors, from the outside looking in, seem to balance life, jobs, household chores and parenting, with a sense of calm and ease. I know this is farthest from their reality. They face challenges daily, albeit monetary, juggling medical appointments and therapies, and making accommodations in an “unhandicap society.” I can’t imagine the money, effort, stress of trying to parent with these extra hurdles in being a parent. I do know that Marshall and Sam, couldn’t ask for a better Mother. Stacy’s inner strength is unending. On the outside we see a beautiful, confident and supportive Mom. On the inside, I’m sure she is tired and stressed. I’m sure she is just trying to get through life one day at a time. Yet, she is always looking one step ahead. She will do anything, travel anywhere to make life easier or more comfortable for Marshall and Sam. Stacy’s family story deserves to be shared. Her children are AMAZING!!!”

August 5th
Winner: Jamie Ulsher Nominated by: Cindy Wheeler
Why: “Jamie is a beautiful person inside and out, and just happens to be my daughter. I nominate her because she is an amazingly strong, loving mother of three beautiful children with the youngest having multiple handicaps( lissencephaly, CVI, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, hydrocephalus, stroke surviving twin). She’s been dealing with so much stress the past two years, the birth of Zach, our super hero, the lose of his brother and now going through a nasty divorce. Her children mean the world to her, but, between Zach’s many Dr.’s appointments, therapy secessions, and now marriage issues she needs to know that there are people out there that care, that will be there when she needs a helping hand, that have “been there, done that” and know what she’s going through.
Thank you for considering my daughter for this nomination.”

August 6th
Winner: Shamirah Bandila Luna Nominated by: Sherrie Sinsuat
Why: “I nominate my sister Shamirah Bandila Luna as special needs parents of the day, or of the month or of the year or of the life time. My eldest sister had six children (3 in college, 1 in senior high, one in elementary, and Datu Tam as the second son aged 21 as cerebral palsy special child of her). Datu Tam was a healthy baby boy when he was born but he was diagnosed cerebral palsy at nine months. He had therapy when he was 1 year old onwards even until he was 16 years old. Through the years I’ve seen her mother and father beside him, with their pure love, support and care of a parents could have to a child. They never left Datu Tam on his darkest days. Now, Datu Tam was a happy and contented man on his wheel chair. He grew up with faith and strength even knowing he couldn’t walk ever. Datu Tam’s smile could really says how happy he was with his faith in God and his family will always be beside him, to support and love him until the end.”

August 7th
Winner: Heidi Rayl Nominated by: Jenny Rand
Why: “Heidi is the definition of a mother. She has 2 children, one typical (a daughter), and one with special needs (a son). She devotes all of her time to her children. She juggles attending her daughter’s sporting events and dance competitions and commuting her son back and forth to doctor and therapy appointments. Heidi is one the most understanding, nonjudgmental, kind, caring, and loving people I’ve ever had the honor of knowing. Her devotion to her children is something to be respected.”

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August 8th
Winner: Chaney Roko Nominated by: Nancy Roko 
Why: “I am nominating my daughter (Chaney Roko). Chaney, who became a widow at the age of 30, has two adopted special needs children.
My youngest daughter, Jasmine, was born in 1984 at 24 weeks gestation. She was born with microcephaly, had many “preemie” complications, and died at the age of 16. Chaney was 8 years old when Jasmine joined our family. She became one of Jasmine’s staunchest supporters while growing up. Chaney decided early on to adopt a special needs child. Three years after the death of her husband Chaney did adopt – first Mary and a few years later, Keira. Both girls were born with Arthrogryposis Multiples Congenita (multiple joint contractures and muscle weakness, also known as AMC) and have both trachs and g-tubes. Keira also had birth complication which caused cerebral palsy. Their lives are very busy with medical appointments, therapies, school (for Keira) and homeschool (for Mary), summer camp and adaptive sports – tucking in trips to Shriner’s in Philadelphia – 6 hours away from them. The Philly Shriner’s is where Dr. Van Bosse, who is a specialist in the rare disorder of AMC, can be seen.
I live 1500 miles from Chaney and the girls but manage to see them at least once a year (this year I will be with them when Mary has both of her legs amputated).
I am so proud of Chaney for “paying it forward” by adopting these girls! I love them all dearly!”

August 9th
Winner: Tricia Roth Nominated by: Yvette Patch
Why: “Tricia is the mother to Bronson. Bronson is a young boy that suffered a severe, traumatic brain injury at birth. Bronson has cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder, and autonomic dysfunction due to the brain injury. He has had many procedures that include a feeding tube, a supra pubic catheter, an appendicostomy, a baclofen pump and several more. Bronson is non verbal but he the most amazing young boy.
Tricia is also leader to a lot of special needs mothers. She has touched many hearts as well and gives every bit of her attention to a hurting mom in need. In 2010, she began a bible study for some amazing mothers that have hurting hearts. She became their rock and mentor as she would listen to each voice no matter how long it took. She also finds the time to speak publicly, founded a nonprofit called Brave Like Bronson, visits schools with a puppet team to teach inclusion to typical children and runs with Bronson in 5K while he is in his Hoyt running chair. She is a burst of energy for the special needs community and has a ton of people the look up to her. Me being one. She deserves the moon! I am sure if you reached out to many of the women that she mentors, you would get the same reaction from them about Tricia.
I nominate Tricia Roth for this Special Needs Parent award because not only does she carry the weight of excellent care to Bronson, she has a huge heart of other special needs children and their incredible parents.”

August 10th
Winner: Shelly Roberts Nominated by: Amy Dunaway
Why: “After raising her biological family, Shelly began her journey into the foster to adopt program. She has adopted three beautiful children, – one typically developing, one with congenital heart disease, and one with severe cerebral palsy. She recently accepted another foster placement (hoping to again adopt) a child with anencephaly. The two youngest are wheelchair bound, nonverbal and require complete care.

Shelly has a heart for children with special needs and believes every child should be cherished for who they are as a child of God.”

August 11th
Winner: Lisa Ordes Nominated by: Jennifer Guillory
Why: “She has become my sister and one of my strengths. Her daughter Kayla has AT and uses a wheelchair. This past year has been extremely rough when Lisa received the diagnosis that she has breast cancer. Still caring for her daughter she now had to fight for herself and still be the mom to her two daughters and a wife. She had many ups and downs but her strength remained strong. Now she is in remission however is now fighting shingles. I am truly blessed to have her in my life.”

August 12th
Winner: Kim Harris Nominated by: Maria Varela
Why: “Kim is a wonderful mother, dedicated completely to her 6-year-old son Caleb. He was born with a congenital, very rare heart disease. After being so scared for years and witnessing her child’s health deteriorate, he received a new heart! The last weeks have being an emotional rollercoaster for Caleb and his mom. She has been so emotionally drained. She is also so strong and an inspiration for me, also a special needs parent. She deserves a recognition!”

August 13th
Winner: Renee Schlenner Nominated by: Brooke Copher
Why: “Renee is a wonderful mother of two children with special needs. She always has a smile on her face and is looking for ways to help others. She was a great asset to me when I moved to Delaware. Renee is an advocate for her children and for inclusion. Her spirit is contagious and brings joy to our community. I am very proud to call her a friend and be on the journey of raising special needs children together.”

August 14th
Winner: Lei Perozich Nominated by: Lisa Toma
Why: “Lei and I went to college together and she was a “big sister” to me. Never in a million years did I think that we would be reunited again as “sisters” but here we are, both moms to boys with autism. I am nominating Lei because she is amazing parent to her special needs son Anthony and her two other children. She fights for Anthony as she tries to get him the medical help he needs with his epilepsy in addition to also fighting the school to help her son receive an education. She deserves some extra attention and encouragement.”

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August 15th
Winner: Salvador & Deborah Arrona Nominated by: Cassandra Jenkins
Why: “My cousins, Salvador and Deborah, are parents to Aria. She was born premature and lives with multiple medical diagnoses as a result, such as Cerebral Palsy and Dysphagia, a feeding tube, suffers seizures, and multiple others. Yet Salvador and Deborah NEVER complain, as tired and scared as they may be–running Aria to doctors appointments or taking Aria to the ER in emergencies they’re always optimistic about God’s plan for them and for Aria’s well being. I want to nominate them, not because they ask for recognition, but because as we become parents we take on the responsibility of raising these little people and teaching them greatness. My cousins have gone above and beyond, they continue to do so. Salvador works hard to support his family, while Deborah quit her job to stay home and ensure someone is available for Aria’s care at all times. These two truly are all stars.”

August 16th
Winner: Christie Mellinger Nominated by: Marilou Senseman
Why: “I’d like to nominate Christie Mellinger. Christie is the mom to a beautiful daughter, Danielle, who has Angelman Syndrome. Christie lost her husband this past year, and it’s been very hard on Christie, Danielle, and her son, David. She is a beautiful woman who can use all the smiles we can bless her with.”

August 17th
Winner: Michelle Keys Nominated by: Deb Younkins
Why: “Michelle has 3 children, 2 with Arthrogryposis Multiplex Congenita. Her son is usually in a body cast with a trach and needs much care. He must take regular trips to doctors and she has 2 other young children which need care. Michelle exemplifies God’s love to everyone.”

August 18th
Winner: Geraldine Renton Nominated by: Caroline McCrank
Why: “I want to nominate Geraldine Renton because she is one amazing lady. She has a beautiful 14 year old son who has Hunter Syndrome type II. He is the eldest of 3 boys. Every day & night she tirelessly looks after him with her heart breaking knowing one day she will lose him to this life limiting disease. She writes on her blog about their journey to ease her pain & help her cope along the way. She gives out love, smiles, and welcomes to everyone she knows, especially to other special-needs parents and children.”

August 19th
Winner: Joanna Rosario Nominated by: Lisa
Why: “Joanna is mom of 3 kids, 2 with special needs. Her patience, dedication, and determination are qualities that every parent should possess. Even when it may seem that she’s overwhelmed she just keeps on going! She truly deserves to be acknowledged!”

August 20th
Winner: Jodi and Stephen Shenal Nominated by: Debra Temple
Why: “Jodi & Stephen have two children with special needs. Their son has autism and daughter has Q1 deletion. This couple started Race The Helix, which is going in its 5th year later this year. Jodi also writes a special needs parents blog for Firefly. They are amazing parents and are such a wonderful example of special needs parents.”

August 21st
Winner: Doug Thorstenson Nominated by: Kathleen Thorstenson
Why: “I would like to nominate my husband, Doug, because he is a one in a million dad when it comes to our kids. We just retired from doing Foster Care for special needs and medically fragile children after 25+ years. We have had over 70 children through our home and have adopted the last 4. We have had them pretty much since birth. They range in age from 6 to 15 and are each unique in their own way. But one of our daughters is severely impaired both mentally and physically. She also has a trach and a feeding tube along with several other issues.She has had 6 surgeries on her back and is getting ready to under go # 7 to lengthen growth rods for her scoliosis. Doug and our daughter have a very special bond, and he is the one that sits by her bed with each hospital admission or Doctors appointment. He retired from his job with our local school district after 30 years.”

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August 22nd
Winner: Cassi Baden Nominated by: Lorna Bradley
Why: “Cassi tirelessly cares for a three-year-old with fragile health and a terminal diagnosis. She has faced so many adversities with grace and faith. She keeps her focus on God in the midst of the hardest of times, inspiring others with her spirit and energy.”

August 23rd
Winner: Shannon Tucker Nominated by: Michele Scott
Why: “Shannon has 3 children with special needs with a mix of autistic, medical, and emotional issues. When she is not working with her children, their therapists or schools, she shares her special ed teacher/parenting knowledge in online groups to help other parents advocate for their children. That’s how I met Shannon. She helped me with concerns at the cyberschool our children attended. And even though her children are back in their local schools, she continues as the main Admin for the special ed parents online group we created. Other than sharing an occasional lunch out with me, she seldom does anything for herself. I would love to see Shannon honored and gifted for all of the ways she gives to others.”

August 24th
Winner: Rosa Falcon Nominated by: Carissa Byram
Why: “My friend Rosa deserves this because of her undying attention she gives towards her son, Angelo, who has Down Syndrome. She never stops teaching him and believing in him while also fighting her own disease lupus. She is such a strong amazing mother and deserves every bit of happiness in this world.”

August 25th
Winner: Cyndi Lopez Nominated by: Ian V Hamrick
Why: “I cannot say enough wonderful things about Cyndi, as mother and as a person. She is one of the strongest women I have ever met in my life. She works tirelessly day in and day out to make sure her son, Angel, who is wheelchair bound due to Spina Bifida, get any and everything he needs. From Physical therapy, home education, physical fitness, countless medical appointments, and surgeries, she is there making sure he is taken care of in any and every way possible. She has also still managed to find time to volunteer with Spina Bifida Texas, a nonprofit dedicated to education the public about this condition. When she not taking care of her son or those close to her, she is volunteering in anyway she can to help others in any capacity that she can.
What has impressed me the most in the years that I have known her is her resolve and her tireless energy to care not only for her son but those people that are close and not so close to her. She is champion not only for her son but also for other people who may not have a voice or be represented. She does all these things and more while dealing with her own personal health problems. I cannot think anyone who is more deserving to be recognized for doing what they do every moment of everyday.”

August 26th
Winner: Amanda McCarter Nominated by: Ashley Vanmeter
Why: “Amanda delivered her son by emergency c-section at only 21 weeks pregnancy and is now raising a true miracle baby. Her son just had his 2nd Birthday and is always accomplishing new milestones thanks all to Amanda. I don’t know how she does it. He has many many health issues including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, vision issues, mobility issues, and still has a feeding tube in place but that doesn’t stop Amanda from being the most inspiring and caring mother. So many sleepless nights and not enough help. Unfortunately due to her husband’s job, they had to move away from family. We all pitch in and help as much as we can but it’s still so hard for Amanda not getting much help and having friends and family 6 hours away. I truly don’t know how she does it by herself! Somehow everyday Amanda wakes up and finds the fight in her soul to have hope for better days.”

August 27th
Winner: Amy Miller Nominated by: Jennifer Lindemann
Why: “Amy is an exceptional mother. She not only parents all six of her kids, homeschools them all, keeps them all involved in sports, music lessons and community service, but she also has a daughter with Spina Bifida. Three years ago, pregnant with her 5th child, she came to the Children’s Hospital and sat with me when my infant son was diagnosed with a critical congenital heart defect. She brought me an electric blanket so I wouldn’t get cold in the hospital. She brought me organic snacks and bottles of water. Most importantly, she held my hand and cried with me. Then she took my 2.5 year old, healthy son, home with her so he could have fun while we were stuck at the hospital. She just added him right into her crazy bunch and took such amazing care of him. She is intimately familiar with the hospital as her daughter, Kehlana, has had close to forty surgeries there. Every day she reminds me to live for the now and for the moments that I am getting, because none of us are promised tomorrow, but if we dwell on that we lose out on the moments we do get.

She’s an inspiration to me as a wife, mother, and friend. She does everything for other people without hesitation, and I never could have survived my introduction to special needs parenting without her.”

August 28th
Winner: Korie Heckinger Nominated by: Susan Peterson
Why: “Korie has a son named Zach who is 8 and was born with Spina Bifida, hydrosephilis and Arnold Ciari disease. It is a 24 hour job but Korie is doing a fantastic job of making life as normal for Zach as possible. Korie wants Zach to know he can do anything if he puts his mind to it. She seeks out different experiences for Zach to do such as horse back riding, surfing, skiing, baseball, hunting, fishing, and track. She also has a daughter Zoey who is 11 and she runs these kids to their different events most every night of the week. She knows that someday she won’t be there for Zach and wants him to be self-sufficient. Korie also has a full time job. Her and her husband Jamie work opposite shifts so that there is always someone there for Zach. This leaves little time for them as a couple. And Korie would be the first person to help anyone in need. She is a very giving person and asks for nothing in return.”

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August 29th
Winner: Emily Carter Nominated by: Kristin Schell
Why: “Emily is my younger sister. She’s an amazing mother to Jack, 13, and Charlie, 5. If you want to label Charlie, he has autism. But our family just knows and loves him as CFC — as we call him. Emily and her husband Fran are remarkable parents. But, it’s hard. Having a child with Autism means there’s never any down-time. And, when they dare to look into the future, there’s really no end in sight for the care CFC will need. Most days, you’d never know about the sleepless nights, the endless worry, or fear they face as parents. Emily and Fran are too busy taking CFC to swim lessons, helping Jack and the neighbor friends find Pokemon Go, or enjoying rare, but healthy family outings. I would love for Emily & Fran to feel the LOVE — knowing there’s a community of folks who understand is so important. Thank you for hosting this and reaching out to love special-needs parents!”

August 30th
Winner: Rose Gilleland Nominated by: Lacy Gilleland
Why: “My mom is the parent of a 30-year-old with special needs. She also works with children with special needs everyday as a special needs preschool teacher. Her strength is amazing and she is an amazing parent and teacher!”

August 31st
Winner: Kati Zick Nominated by: Kathy Schwabe
Why: “I want nominate my niece, Kati Zick. She is an amazing parent to her 2 boys and especially to her daughter, Lauren. Lauren was born with Cerebral Palsy. Lauren has 12 doctors and has endured many operations. At one time Kati and her husband, David, taught a Bible study for Special Needs parents at their church. Since birth Lauren has had 3 therapists: occupational, physical, and swallowing. She uses her walker and wheel chair and she can walk independently some. For the last 3 years she has had intestinal problems resulting in her colon being taken out and an ileostomy. One year she was in and out of the hospital over 100 days the next year 72 consecutive days. Through it all Kati is the most positive person I’ve ever met in my life. She relies on God to give her strength and carry her through the tough days. Kati trained as a Special Education teacher which serves her well now. Kati is always prepared with therapies and protecting Lauren from allergens. I can’t think of anyone who deserves to be treated “special” for the loving ways she cares for her whole family.”