Family educates people about Cri du chat

Brenda Dover and daughter, Mimi Birk, recently returned from Dallas where they attended their second conference dedicated to Cri du chat (literally: cry of the cat) syndrome.

Taylor Morris, Dover’s 10-year-old granddaughter, was diagnosed with the rare genetic disorder shortly after birth.

One early characteristic is the unique cry — much like a kitten meowing — a child who is affected makes. The larynx muscles and nervous system are particularly weak in children with this syndrome and they are susceptible to pneumonia. For this reason, Taylor drinks only thickened milk and water, no juices.

“Ten years ago there was no glimmer of hope for children with this diagnosis,” said Birk.

Birk credits Brookwood Medical Center’s NED unit for running preliminary DNA tests and providing a diagnosis within 10 hours. Only 10 other children in Alabama are known to have this diagnosis.

“The news was at first devastating,” Birk said.

“It took me some time to grieve the loss of my ideal picket fence family, but it gave us the opportunity to enroll Taylor for early intervention, which is the single-most important aspect for helping these children.”

United Way underwrites portions of these early intervention programs. At age 3, Taylor began attending school. Birk said Taylor’s special education teachers at Montevallo Elementary have been supportive beyond measure. She said her immediate family and Westwood Baptist church have also helped her.

Though Taylor reached some of her milestones late, today she can count to 100, knows her ABCs and can read Dick and Jane–type books. She has a special needs stroller that will accommodate her up to 138 pounds and now is able to ride a special bicycle provided by AMBUCS.

Taylor has learned to show affection carefully for her 3-year old sister, Rebekah, by kissing her on the head.

“When I see that one side of Rebekah’s head is wet and slobbery, I know Taylor has been loving on her sister,” Birk said.

Taylor uses hand clapping as her personal greeting, combined with a squeal.

Taylor loves the water and loves to run. She placed second in the Special Olympics 15-meter assisted race and first in the softball throw.

Dover has seen the financial hardship imposed on some families with Cri du chat syndrome children, and is planning local fund–raisers for 2010.

Early ideas include a Fun Run, a golf tournament and a benefit concert with the support of Kevin Derryberry’s music ministry.

Dover welcomes hearing from readers who would like to sponsor or volunteer. She can be contacted at 663-7183.

Columnist Laura Brookhart can be reached by e–mail at

laurabrookhart@yahoo.com.