The Doctors Said She Would Never Walk


Early intervention gave Sydney Evans a chance to walk in her parents' footsteps

May 03, 2011|C. Ruth Ebrahim

One of the early moments of weakness came when she thought she’d never see her daughter in a basketball uniform.

Deneen Evans and her husband Dwayne both played basketball. Their older son Brandon continued his basketball career into college at Carson Newman.  When Sydnee, now a fifth grader at Fort Lewis Elementary, was born three months premature and diagnosed with cerebral palsy, her mother couldn’t help but let the worst thoughts creep in.

“In most circumstances, when children are born that young, they don’t live,” Deneen said.  “We were told if she lived, she would have severe mental retardation, and she wouldn’t walk before age five.”  

Her daughter, who she calls “our miracle baby,” not only walked at 15 months old, but loves school, sings in the church choir at Shiloh Baptist, is in Girl Scouts, and plays basketball and soccer for the Glenvar Recreation Club. 

Her mother credits several factors for the remarkable way Sydnee continually defeats the odds of cerebral palsy: Believe in God, early intervention, a strong support system, and a can do attitude.  


Soon after her birth on September 22, 1989, Sydnee Evans suffered third and fourth degree brain hemorrhages on the right and left side of her brain. Born at 1 lb. 13 oz., her prognosis was grim. An MRI detected the bleed within 72 hours and a pediatric neurosurgeon placed a shunt in her tiny brain only three weeks after birth.  

She remained in the Carilion Clinic Neonatal ICU for three months long enough for her to breathe, eat and function independent of the machines and support from the multidisciplinary health team. 

“For three months we watched her develop and grow in the incubator instead of in utero.  We watched her grow really what she would have been doing in utero, in the incubator,” Deneen said.

Sydnee was discharged from the NICU on 12/31/1999. 

The  Evans (not quite, thanks for the compliment young couple) brought their baby daughter home knowing she suffered from right side hemiparesis, or weakness and poor motor control of one arm and one leg on the same side of the body. They knew she would need intense therapy to have the best chance of the life they wanted for her.  Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Sydnee qualified for Early Intervention Services.  Deneen Evans said her daughter came home on a breathing machine, and therapists began working with the baby almost immediately.

Deneen Evans is studying for her PhD in Social Work with a focus on Early Intervention Services, and is passionate about the cause.  She said there is a disparity in the number of African American and Hispanic children referred to and receiving Early Intervention Services.  Identifying and referring eligible children for Early Intervention Services is critical to the development of children with disabilities. 

“The sooner you get it, the better off these children will be,” she said.  

Early intervention includes speech, physical and occupational therapy in the home or agency from birth to three years old and in public preschool until kindergarten. Once in kindergarten, students with disabilities are eligible for services and Individual Educational Plans (IEP) are developed to address educational rather than medical needs of the child.  This includes addressing fine motor skills, sensory integration, attention and coordination.  A child with a disability and a IEP is eligible to receive special education services through  21 years of age.

The Evans family also credits their social network, extended family, and faith community at Shiloh Baptist Church with providing much needed support during Sydnee’s early years. Even today Deneen, who is a professor in the school of social work at Radford University, and Dwayne, a systems analyst, call on their friends and family for advice and assistance. Deneen’s parents, Fred and Shirley Logan of Southwest Virginia, took care of their granddaughter for the first three years of her life.  Deneen said the one-on-one attention helped Sydnee develop.  

Perhaps most important to the young girl’s ability to beat the odds of her condition is the child herself. How does Sydnee deal with people who don’t believe she can do anything she wants to?  

“I just ignore them,” Sydney said.  

“Her faith and her friends help her get through every day”. She spends time with her friends talking and texting, Sydnee said. “Her favorite subjects are science and social studies, and she has big plans for her life. She wants to go to college, probably Spellman University in Atlanta , and says she will probably start a business or something, perhaps in fashion design.”

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