David and Lisa Hamaoui were overjoyed when their daughter was born. Leah was gorgeous – blonde-haired with a mischievous grin.
Leah developed and grew as most babies do. It wasn’t until she was nine months old that her parents realized something was wrong. She seemed to have a hearing problem. Leah took a hearing test and the specialist informed Lisa that her daughter had perfect hearing but faced developmental delays in processing and reacting to what she was hearing.
That’s when Lisa realized that Leah wasn’t turning over or sitting up either – important developmental milestones that the Hamaouis had seen their older children perform with ease at the same age. “I went to my pediatrician who advised me to see a neurologist. Then I went to a neurologist who said that something is neurologically wrong with her,” recalled Lisa. “We started doing neurological tests, blood tests and the like and we got our answer. Angelman’s Syndrome.”
The Hamaouis scrambled to get help. They contacted the public system but were told that there was a waiting list of up to three years. Then they heard about Yaldei. “The first time we walked in, Ben Baer looked at us and said, ‘there are the words ability and disability. We don’t look at her disabilities, we look at her abilities because we know that there’s a kid in there trying to get out and we will make her come out,’” said David. “They saw beyond her ability. Yaldei staff knows that there’s a child with their own personality trying to get out and they coax that personality and child out of that little shell that these children live in.”
The doctors said Leah may never walk, and with intensive therapy, she may walk at ten years old. Leah was five years old when she took her first steps. “I went to pick her up from school at Yaldei and I walked in and everyone was screaming in excitement,” Lisa emotionally recalled. “I entered through the two doors and there she was standing up, walking towards me. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I still get chills when I think about it now.”
Today, Leah is playful and mischievous with a personality of her own. She doesn’t talk but she communicates with the world through signs and pictures. And when her parents arrive to pick her up, the 11-year-old breaks into a huge grin and runs toward them, leaping into her mother’s arms.