- By CAROL ANNE BLITZER
- Advocate staff writer
- Published: Feb 1, 2011
To climb 28 floors from the basement to the observation deck of the state Capitol would be an achievement for anyone, but for Daniel Ballard, it was a lifelong dream and somewhat of a miracle.
Ballard is developmentally disabled with physical and mental limitations. He also has severe visual problems, but he can hear.
“When Daniel was born, the doctor told us he was blind and deaf and that he would never be able even to turn over. He advised us to give him up,” said Lynda Ballard, Daniel’s mother.
Daniel Ballard is what is called a syndrome child.
“He has many exceptionalities,” Lynda Ballard said.
He was born with craniosynostosis, often called cranial stenosis, a condition that required massive cranial and facial surgery when Daniel was 2‰. The surgery was performed by a team of physicians from New York who periodically came to Children’s Hospital in New Orleans to operate on difficult cases.
“They moved all of the bones from Daniel’s cheekbones up,” Lynda Ballard said. She and her husband, Don, were told not to expect much improvement from the surgery.
But Daniel Ballard surprised everyone.
During the five weeks he remained in the hospital after the surgery, he started picking up things and throwing them and performing other motor functions he had never been able to do. At 3‰, he began to walk.
Dr. Tom Kiebach, a local orthodontist, worked to give Daniel a normal mouth.
“He says that Daniel was his lifelong challenge,” Lynda Ballard said. “Daniel wore braces for eight solid years.” He still wears a retainer.
After years of physical therapy and numerous surgeries, Daniel Ballard, now 25, has learned to speak, read, use a computer and perform physical activities.
“For him to advance so far is amazing,” his mother said. “He has exceptional language skills, and he is as sweet as can be. He has exceeded all expectations.”
Daniel Ballard attended school until 2008, when he graduated from Arlington Preparatory Academy with a Certificate of Achievement.
But without a place to go every day, he was bored.
Years ago, Don Ballard applied for Daniel to receive a New Opportunities Waiver, part of a federal program overseen by the state for individuals with developmental disabilities.
After eight years on the waiting list, Daniel Ballard was recently accepted in the program, and Rena Stewart, a respite worker through The Arc Baton Rouge, came into his life.
Stewart works with Ballard 33 hours a week.
“I take him on outings,” Stewart said.
She and Ballard together have developed a schedule of activities. Monday is library day. On Tuesdays, they see a movie. Wednesdays they take a computer class, and on Thursday, they study Spanish at the Main Branch of the East Baton Rouge Parish Library.
“But Friday is our special day,” Stewart said.
And it was on Friday, Jan. 7, that Stewart helped Ballard achieve his lifelong dream of climbing to the top of the Capitol.
“I like steps,” Ballard said. “I like to see what’s on top of things. Sometimes it’s a surprise on top.”
Ballard and his father had tried twice to walk up the steps, but only made it to the fourth floor. Stewart had Daniel Ballard training for the walk at one of BREC’s indoor tracks.
On the big day, Stewart came in to the Capitol at the front desk but was told by a receptionist that the stairs were not open to the public.
Undeterred, she moved to a sergeant-at-arms then to the chief sergeant-at-arms, Clarence Russ. He gave permission for Ballard to climb the stairway accompanied by two emergency medical technicians, Sharon Betsill and Susan Broussard, who also serve as sergeants-at-arms for the building.
The climb took a little over an hour and 15 minutes.
“Thank goodness there were water fountains,” Ballard said. “I wouldn’t have made it without water fountains.”
But made it he did. All the way to the observation deck on the 27th floor.
“I’ve worked here for six years, and I had never made it to the top,” Betsill said.
Glenda Gray, a community support specialist with The Arc, is proud of the way Stewart advocated for Ballard. “She had a couple of roadblocks, but she got to the head people,” Gray said.
Ballard has now set another goal for himself.
He has become quite proficient in Google Earth on his large-screen computer.
“He takes virtual walks,” Lynda Ballard said.
But now he wants to do a real walk on the Mississippi River levee from the beginning in Missouri to the end below New Orleans.
“We are going to walk the levee,” Stewart said with a laugh, “but not as far as Daniel wants.”