The Blessing and the Blended

By:  Girard Sagmiller

Girard and Sherri Sagmiller live with their family in Lee’s Summit, Mo, a suburb of Kansas City. They have two children, Savannah and Dakota. Dakota is a bright, outgoing, and energetic 10- year-old born with Down Syndrome. It is never easy for parents to learn that their child has Down Syndrome, and in Girard’s case he sought an explanation that was as well-researched as possible. The result of his journey was the production of a PBS documentary called Dakota’s Pride: A Father’s Search for Hope & Truth about Down Syndrome.

Girard is a people person and never meets strangers, only friends. He made several new friends during his project and felt compelled to document his conversations with other parents of children with Down Syndrome, medical experts, religious experts, and educators. The many conversations that quelled his fears were videotaped and eventually edited into a sensitive, educational and thought-provoking program that Girard shared freely with others and with PBS.

The following is a special excerpt from the video. Melissa Walline, a mother and advocate for Down Syndrome awareness, shared the following about her blessed and blended family:

“I think it’s important to preface that I am 13 years out from the day the doctor came in and said, ‘We think your child has Down Syndrome.’ So it was a…process. We went through the fear… which lead to education…which lead to empowerment…which led to embracing the situation…and now full-fledged advocacy.

We now have a 13-year-old with Down Syndrome and an opportunity presented itself to expand our family from 4 to 5, which lead to our adoption of Grace Walline. We always talk about the moment when the adoption agency called. They called and said, ‘We’ve got this child…she’s beautiful …she’s from a different culture…and she has Down Syndrome.’ We said ‘Korean…we don’t care what color she is…the fact that she has Down Syndrome we knew was doable, but the fact that she was a girl, after having 4 boys, was a blessing.’

Right now it is the number one requested special needs, which is a child with Down Syndrome. In fact, I don’t know if you read the email about the child that was available in New Orleans? I called to make sure the child was going to be adopted, and she said that from day one when that email went out, they had over 70 indications of interest on their website for the baby and they had to narrow it down to 30. The mom and dad that were choosing to put the baby up for adoption were thrilled; they could not believe that anyone would request this specific diagnosis.

I enjoy my typical children…those that are gifted…those that are average...and those that have Down Syndrome for their individuality. It makes for a more blended family.”

To see the actual footage of Melissa and Grace, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SFOvodqSRE

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Author’s Bio: Girard Sagmiller was first known for his book “Dyslexia, My Life.” He devoted the early part of his career to advocacy issues on dyslexia—dispelling its myths and supporting others, who like him, struggled with the condition. When he and his wife Sherri had their second child, Dakota, they focused on providing the same public service as Sagmiller had offered to those with dyslexia, only this time it was about Down Syndrome, since Dakota received the diagnosis shortly after he was born. Sagmiller has published multiple books, a couple of films, and now an updated film version of Dakota’s Pride 2.0.