As they celebrate the beginning of 2014, Fayetteville residents Kym and Kevin Hannah will no doubt be looking back at the years gone by with humble joy.
This Dec. 31, the usually unassuming couple will grandly celebrate the New Year alongside two foundations they helped create. The event will benefit TEAMworks, a local and international not-for-profit organization supporting improvements in the lives of special needs children, and the NWA Center for Autism, a research-based special education and therapeutic program with individualized curriculum working in conjunction with the Grace School. The celebration will also benefit Heroes for Kids, a TEAMworks program focusing on mobilizing children with special needs through adaptive equipment.
“While people are having a good time, they’ll be improving the lives of special needs children in the area,” said Kevin Hannah of the community-sponsored event.
After meeting at Trinity Fellowship Assembly of God and dating for eight years, the couple wed in December 2000 with no idea they would become a beacon of hope for special needs children in Northwest Arkansas.
Kym, a pediatric physical therapist, and Kevin, a certified registered nurse anesthetist, have spent their 13 years of marriage working to improve the lives of special needs children.
It’s a dedication that began with a single child.
When she graduated from Arkansas State University in 1999, Kym “was planning to work in sports rehabilitation.
I didn’t want to work with children,” she said with a laugh. “Then I worked with one special needs child. It was eye opening.” The child, a patient with multiple physiological disabilities, came into the clinic where Kym had first begun practicing in 2000. At the time, said Kym, her only treatment approach was one dimensional, focusing on clinical treatments that she called a “one-stop shop.”
“I just felt like we could offer a more holistic treatment for children with special needs,” she said. And with that thought, Children’s Therapy T.E.A.M. was born.
Children’s’ Therapy T.E.A.M. is a pediatric clinic which offers physical, occupational and speech therapy to children throughout the area, she explained, and focuses on the needs of the families as well as the patients. It offers more care outside of a clinic center than had been previously available in the region, she said.
But before opening her clinic, Kym Hannah often traveled throughout the state, taking sometimes 12 hours to see five young patients.
Her dedication and holistic approach to treating these special needs children led her to partner with a speech pathologist in Fayetteville. “We wanted what is the best interest for the child and family,” she said.
The two-person team began hiring specialized therapists who treated young children with developmental delays, genetic disorders and traumatic brain injuries, focusing on those who fulfilled a specific requirement.
“The vision behind hiring therapists is ‘Would we be comfortable with them working with our child?’,” she said. And with that vision, Children’s’ Therapy T.E.A.M.
would grow to include 75 therapists at two clinics in Washington and Benton counties.
But before her new career would take off, Kym’s life would change.
“Our passion and committed involvement to reach out to this special population of children has always been present,” said Kevin Hannah, “but it soared when my wife met our first daughter.”
In late 2005, three adopted children came into the Children’s’ Therapy T.E.A.M.
clinic. They would change the Hannah family forever.
The three children, Dimitri, Aleksei and Elena Clark, were born with cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder which affects motor skills and causes physical disability. They were adopted from Ukraine by an American couple, Amanda and Jimmie Clark of Bentonville. Amanda had recently returned from Ukraine and was determined to help those left behind in the orphanages and institutions. She reached out to Kym and Children’s Therapy Team, and after hearing about the great need for therapists and aid at the orphanage in Ukraine, the Hannahs decided to get involved.
“I thought, ‘Let’s go see if we can help these kids.’” said Kym.
Together, Kym Hannah, Amanda Clark and a physical therapist from Children’s’ Therapy T.E.A.M., formed TEAMworks International, a team of therapists who travel around the world, educating caregivers, providing specialized equipment and offering individualized treatment plans for the young special needs patients.
Three months later, in March 2006, Kym Hannah was in Kramatorisk, Ukraine, at a local orphanage. Though she had been warned of the realities, the conditions broke her heart.
“The special needs children were in a different room from the other children,” recalled Kym. “They were in their beds 24 hours a day, often tied down. The caretakers didn’t know how to treat them. They had to be shown it was OK to even touch the kids.”
“They basically had given up on them making progress,” said Amanda Clark.
It was in one of these beds in an isolated room among all the children that Kym Hannah first saw Myrah.
“When she looked up at me, I was like ‘Oh, no,’” said Kym with a laugh. She took a photo of the malnourished 4-year-old and sent it to her husband.
“At 4 years of age Myrah was severely malnourished, weighing only 21 pounds,” said her father, Kevin Hannah. “Myrah suffered from traumatic brain injury, periventricular leukomalasia (cerebral palsy), PTSD & was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.”
Despite the hardships, eight months later the little girl from Ukraine was at home in Fayetteville.
“It took about a year before she ever made a sound,” said Kevin, “She now puts sentences together. It’s a blessing to be able to take care of her. I began to realize it wasn’t just about us anymore. It’s about saving Myrah’s life. It was about saving their lives.”
In 2009, at the age of 5, the now healthy Myrah was quickly approaching school age.
“It became increasingly evident Myrah would require a safe, nurturing educational environment,” said Kevin Hannah. “It was time for her to go to school, but there wasn’t a great fit for her,” added Kym.
But rather than enroll her daughter in traditional schools, Kym Hannah began the long search for a private teacher.
“I started getting resumes, and I was amazed at all of the experience and work these teachers had,” said Kym. The new teacher began one-on one with Myrah with amazing results. “After seeing all the gains with Myrah, we thought, this is what we need to do.”
The Hannahs reached out to specialist Beth McKee.
With her expertise in applied behavior analysis, a science-based method of teaching focusing on intensive, structured learning, a school developed.
“It’s really a way of looking at ‘Why is this child using this problem behavior?’ It’s a direct analysis so we can learn the function. Then we can apply treatment,” said McKee. “What is so impressive about Kym was that she knew the need was there, and she provided a service for that need. She wanted to do what needed to be done for these children.”
The school offers “a combination of research-based special education and therapeutic programming, individualized curriculum, applied behavior analysis in a highly supportive environment while incorporating the promotion of social values and family involvement,” said Kevin. “We found ourselves surrounded by a group of amazing individuals contributing to the founding and developments of what today is the NWA Center for Autism.”
The school enrolls 16 students from the area, requiring one-on-one instruction from applied behavior analysis certified teachers. “The expectations are set high.” said Kevin.
“The providers are accountable to the student,” said McKee. “If the child is not progressing, we are accountable. It’s not that the child was having a bad day, or dad is out of town. We are not wasting the child’s time. We have to be effective and efficient.”
Myrah, now 9, is enrolled full time and in a classroom setting, moving from an individualized care plan to a more mainstream school experience. Kym knew the specialized educational approach would benefit her child, but she was still amazed by the results.
“We had no idea what a change it would be.”
In 2010, Kym Hannah was a full-time mom, continued to work with her clinic and traveled back to Ukraine as a volunteer for TEAMworks International. She had no immediate plans to adopt again.
Then she treated an adopted infant from Vietnam.
Quynh, who was born with klippel trenaunay syndrome, a condition which required surgeries and the amputation of both legs, came to Kym as a patient in need of physical therapy. Along with their child, her adoptive parents brought information on the children in need in Chinese orphanages.
The parents, Carol and Marvin Harlan of Fayetteville, worked with the Chinese government facilitating international adoptions for special needs children with Ventures for Children, an Arkansas-based international adoption facilitator. Kym asked to see the photos of these children, and one little girl stood out.
“It was 2 a.m., and they sent me the photo,” said Kym. “Then I woke up Kevin and said ‘Look at this girl.’”
In October 2010, only nine months later, the family of three was in the province of Guangxi in south China, adopting little Allie.
The 3-year-old had been born with bilateral club foot, a condition which made it nearly impossible for her to walk.
She was put up for adoption in 2007 and remained on the special needs list for three years.
An American orphanage, An Orphan’s Wish, corrected her feet through the Ponseti method, an eight-month process involving special casts that slowly reshape the ankle and foot to correctly align the limb.
“She’s an amazing little girl,” said her father, Kevin.
“She walks perfectly and is an inspiring young lady.”
Nineteen months ago, the Hannahs welcomed their first biological child, Embrey McCoy.
“We both thought it would be a big difference,” said Kevin, referring to the raising of their first biological and not special needs child. “But there just isn’t any difference.”
With their two daughters blossoming and a third growing fast, the Hannahs turned their attention outward once again.
Amber Spencer, a mother of a special needs son who worked with the family support team at TEAMworks, reached out to the Hannahs with an idea.
The Miracle League, a not for-profit organization providing team sports for special needs children, was started in Little Rock in 1998, but it was too far to travel for any of the parents. Spencer suggested creating a team and building a field in Northwest Arkansas. Kevin Hannah immediately became involved. “I thought it was a great idea and really wanted to see if we could putit together,” he said.
With help from donations and local volunteers, Miracle League of Arkansas, Northwest Arkansas Chapter, established two baseball fields in Springdale, equipped with adaptive swings, barrier-free fields and a baseball team.
“They get to play like a kid,” said Kevin. “It’s cool.”
Beyond the New Year’s charity bash, the Hannahs are continuing their good works. With aid from Dimitri Clark, Heroes for Kids founder and former patient of Kym Hannah, TEAMworks will be giving away adapted bikes for children with special needs in Northwest Arkansas throughout 2014.
The Hannah’s foundation, TEAMworks will also be presenting a TEAM Talent event: A spring art show. Artwork created by TEAMworks kids will will be shown, and the artists will be introduced with a walk on the red carpet and a mass of paparazzi, said Amanda Clark.
Internationally, TEAMworks will be spearheading five trips beginning in March to Guatemala, Ukraine and China, with goals to provide therapy and adaptive equipment for needy children in remote areas of the world, said Kevin. “They establish a relationship with the caretakers, establish a plan of care, facilitate interventions for children and provide adaptive equipment.”
Though Kym and Kevin remain humble, those around the couple are amazed at their passion and commitment.
“They go above and beyond to help the kids,” said Amanda Clark. “They accept that it may not work, but it has never stopped them.”
“They have a passion. It’s been really exciting to work with them,” said Beth McKee.
“For me, meeting Kym opened a door,” added Clark.
“I was automatically able to start helping. Without them, none of this would be possible.”
“We’re just trying to give these children options,” said Kevin of the foundations.
“We’re not celebrating children with disabilities, we are celebrating their abilities. It is so important for our community to get behind parents with children with special needs. It is such a challenge to walk this path, but it is such a blessing.”
“There really is no end.” said his wife, Kym. “We can’t ask the Lord not to open a door.”
“We give God the glory for the work He has done through these organizations, and others like it, and are excited to see the great things yet to come,” Kevin added.
“We are really blessed.”
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