The weekend before her third birthday, Mia Fowler didn’t have a birthday cake or a birthday party, but she did travel to Tampa, Fla.
There, at Care Clinics, Mia receives treatments for autism.
Mia and her parents, Jacob and Andrea Fowler make the 15-hour drive to Tampa two weekends a month.
The alternative treatments, not covered by health insurance, cost the couple $300 each day Mia is at the clinic, or $1,800 a month, not including traveling expenses.
The trips may continue for a year.
“Our goal is for her to be at her peer’s level by the time she’s five or six,” said Andrea.
It is this goal, Jacob and Andrea said, that is a pricey one, but it’s a chance they have to take.
To look at Mia today, one would assume the child was like any other 3-year-old, content to watch cartoons and dance around the room.
Jacob and Andrea said that wasn’t the case.
In February 2007, Mia developed a stomach virus. Then, one day she had two seizures. Mia spent a week at the University of Kentucky medical center and was put on medication.
“She was still acting normal at this point,” said Jacob.
It wasn’t Mia’s hospitalization that alarmed her parents, but it was what would happen next.
“She stopped all social interaction,” said Andrea. “She stopped responding to her name.”
“She eventually lost all eye contact and completely stopped speaking,” said Jacob.
Mia began crying constantly.
“You want to help her, but you don’t know what’s wrong,” said Andrea.
Mia didn’t want to be hugged or comforted by her parents.
“I just felt like we lost her, really,” Andrea said.
In an effort to identify their daughter’s problem, Jacob and Andrea started investigating and researching. They stumbled upon autism.
A doctor at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital confirmed Jacob and Andrea’s guess; Mia was autistic.
A brain development disorder, autism is now the leading disorder among children, characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. One in 150 children is diagnosed with autism, a growing number from just 10 years ago when it was one in 10,000. The disorder affects more children than cancer and is difficult to diagnose, all facts Jacob and Andrea soon learned.
“It’s completely different with every kid,” said Jacob.
While Andrea said she was hesitant at first about knowing Mia’s diagnosis, several books made her feel hopeful.
“The more research we did, the better we felt about it,” said Andrea.
Information from the couple’s research led them to an Autism support group and RDI Therapy. After attending a conference in Atlanta, Jacob and Andrea began leading Mia in therapy at home, with exercises that promote building relationships.
“It was something we do all day,” said Andrea about the therapy.
Unable to work due to Mia’s treatments and condition, Andrea was able to see Mia’s improvements.
She keeps a journal that records Mia’s daily accomplishments.
“Sometimes when I do get discouraged, I read that, and see that she is improving each day,” said Andrea.
With improvements, Jacob and Andrea explored additional medical treatments. With a DAN doctor in Cincinnati, Mia was tested and placed on a gluten-free diet.
It was a flyer in the mail that informed Jacob and Andrea about the alternative treatments in Tampa.
“I called thinking it would be a big wait, but they had us in the next week,” said Andrea.
The couple flew south in an airplane with their daughter, and began treatments at Care Clinics on Oct. 4, 2008.
Mia was first tested for food allergies and metals in her body.
“She was off the charts for mercury and lead,” said Jacob.
Doctors at the clinic told Jacob and Andrea that Mia (like many autistic children) was having problems getting rid of toxins in her body and absorbing necessary minerals.
Doctors began three main IV treatments. A treatment called chelation removes the heavy metals from Mia’s body, while another treatment replaces the minerals she does need, and another treatment called PK protocol helps Mia’s body detoxify.
“It gives the immune system a huge boost,” said Jacob, adding that the treatment was the same treatment performed on Magic Johnson, and other AIDS and cancer patients.
Mia will also receive hyperbaric oxygen treatments which will allow Mia to breathe pure air, a new treatment for children with autism.
“The first few times were pretty rough,” said Jacob about the treatments.
Andrea said the long 15-hour car rides and eight-hour days in the clinic were tough on Mia, partly because she is uncomfortable in unfamiliar places.
For Jacob and Andrea, the Tampa clinic offered an opportunity to meet other parents of autistic children.
“People there know your situation,” said Andrea.
The improvement of other children attending the clinic only confirmed Jacob and Andrea’s belief they were doing the right thing.
And soon after their first visit, Andrea said she got her daughter back.
“It was the second time we were there, and I had gone down with a friend of mine and her daughter,” Andrea said. “I looked over and saw Mia was watching the other girl play, and then Mia started to play with her.”
Watching Mia play with another child is something Andrea hadn’t seen before.
Jacob and Andrea said they have seen drastic improvements in Mia.
“She’s starting to talk a lot more,” said Andrea. “And now she’s actually going up to strangers.”
“Just physically, I think she’s a lot healthier,” said Jacob.
And while the couple knows their daughter is improving, they also know there’s more work to be done.
“My goal for her is to be able to focus like a normal kid, to be able to have friends, and to be a normal 5-year-old,” said Andrea.
“...for her to be able to live a normal life,” said Jacob.
The experience, Jacob and Andrea said, has taught them much about their daughter, each other and life.
“I think we’re luckier than most people because we appreciate the small things so many people take for granted,” said Andrea. “It’s made us so much better.”
For now, they said, everything would be about Mia.
“We had to push back what we wanted for now,” said Jacob.
And while Mia didn’t have a birthday cake or party this year, Andrea said Mia will in the future.
“Hopefully next year we can do the big party and cake and all that,” Andrea said.
A benefit silent auction and dance will be held this Saturday night at the Elk’s Lodge, with proceeds going to assist the family with Mia’s treatment expenses. Tickets are $10 per person or $15 for a couple. The event begins at 8 p.m. You must be 21 to enter.