Nina Brown was 16 when she went into the home of Weston and Julie Potter last year and peered at 13-month-old Cory, who was born with spina bifida, a genetic defect in which the spine doesn't close during development. The condition is sometimes called "open spine."
"I was afraid I was going to break him," recalled Nina of the first time she and other young women went to the Potters' home to help with Cory's therapy. "I had heard about him and his problems soon after he was born. When I saw him for the first time, I was struck by how fragile he looked."Cory may not have been fragile enough to break, but he certainly was helpless - more so than any 13-month-old Nina had seen before. He was paralyzed from the waist down. When placed on the floor, he couldn't scoot across the room as others his age could. He couldn't turn over. He just lay there.
Wes and Julie Potter, members of the Blackfoot (Idaho) 10th Ward, had struggled for a year to manage their household, and give attention to their other two children, Jeremy, now 7, and Rachel, now 4.
Soon after Cory was born on May 15, 1986, he was transferred to Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City. While her husband was in Utah with Cory, Julie Potter was still in the hospital in Blackfoot. Ward members and neighbors rallied to help, doing everything from tending the Potters' other children, to cleaning house, preparing meals, and even planting flowers in their yard.
Cory was brought home from Primary Children's Hospital after a few weeks, but had to return for surgery later. Soon after Cory's first birthday, his doctors and therapists felt it was time for more intensive therapy to begin.
"When we tried to work with Cory in his therapy, he would not respond to Julie and me," said Potter. "We were his `comfort.' We were the ones who tried to make the hurt go away, and therapy is sometimes painful for him. It involves stretching and pulling. He was confused. We knew we needed some outside help."
Sister Potter said, "A neighbor told me she had read an article in the Church News about a group of young women who had been helping with a child's physical therapy. She told me I should call on the girls in our ward for help."
Nearly two dozen young women have answered the call. They have been instructed by Janice Seargent, a licensed occupational therapist who has worked with Cory since he was 6 months old. For the past 15 months, they have worked in pairs, taking turns going to Cory's home four days a week; he goes to the licensed therapist on the fifth day.
"The initial plan was for the girls to just work with Cory during their summer vacation," said Potter, who is stake mission president in the Blackfoot Idaho South Stake. "But when school started last year, they asked if they could continue to work with him. They've worked around their busy schedules to help Cory. I know they must have missed out on many fun activities."
The therapist said the young women have "energy and a positive attitude, which really develop Cory's social skills as well as his physical skills. They are doing a good service. I would like to see more involvement of this kind in the lives of other handicapped people. So much could be done through such Church groups to help not only young children but also to help older children and adults. Children with special needs like Cory take a great deal of time away from other family members. These girls have given this family a great support system."
Sister Potter said, "When they began working with Cory, he couldn't do anything. Now he can scoot across the floor, and sit at a little table. His hands had atrophied until he just had little fists. Because of the therapy, he can hold a glass. He can stack blocks and put pegs into a peg board. Because he is paralyzed from the waist down, the girls have been working to teach him how to balance himself. They roll him on a large ball, teaching him how to shift his weight and to right himself."
Wes Potter said the young women are giving Cory "a chance at life he might not have had without their time and efforts."
Now 17, Nina is the only one of the original group who still works with Cory. Other young women have graduated from high school, gone to college or moved away, but they're being replaced by others who are entering the Young Women program.
"We hear a lot about all the good we're doing for Cory, but people should realize Cory has done a lot for us," said Nina. "He has added a lot to our lives. You can go over to his house and be in one of the worst moods of your life, but come out in the best mood. He just makes your day. I'm glad I've had a part in helping him. I would say we get double back what we give in service hours."
The commitment the young women feel toward Cory was reflected in a recent service project they undertook. "One of the girls, Holley Luke, wanted to do even more for Cory, said Potter. "She asked what I could suggest. I told her how difficult it had been for us to find a stroller for Cory when we wanted to take him out of his room for a change of scenery at Primary Children's Medical Center. I suggested she do something to raise money to buy a stroller to give to the hospital."
Holley took the idea to the others. They held a car wash, earning enough to buy a high-quality stroller. When they went to purchase it, the store's manager was so impressed that he sold them two strollers for the price of one. They recently traveled to Salt Lake City and presented the two strollers to hospital representatives.