Hairdresser trying to help three-year-old she met in barber chair

At physiotherapy in Ottawa this week, Ben Brown of South Mountain has his hand exercised (left) and is made to stand up to strengthen his legs.

Tom Van Dusen
Nation Valley News

SOUTH MOUNTAIN — Eight months into the COVID-19 crash, all Eastern Ontarians have stories to tell about the loneliness of isolation, the discomfort of facemasks, and shortages of supplies.

Now try magnifying that 10 times by adding a child — three-year-old Ben — with special needs to the mix as is the case with Jessica and Chris Brown currently living in cramped quarters in South Mountain with his parents because they can’t afford anything else while they attempt to get back on their feet financially.

Chris is operating a junk removal business while Jessica has medical issues that prevent her from working… which she couldn’t do anyway because she must remain a full-time caregiver. The couple could use some financial assistance and Chesterville hairdresser Karen Parker has taken up their cause.

“I personally don’t have much to give because I’m still trying to get back on my feet from COVID,” Parker explains. “I just want the community to know this family needs help and would appreciate whatever can be done.”

Parker met Jessica and Ben after replying to a Facebook posting seeking a haircutter with experience working with exceptional children. The two women got talking at her salon and after Parker learned of the difficulties, she decided to help: “He’s a beautiful boy!”

Born three and a half months premature, Ben underwent 10 brain surgeries before his first birthday, including installation of two stents to redirect a build-up of fluids to his stomach where they become routinely absorbed.

He has a condition called hydrocephalus and cerebral palsy which has delayed his development. While he can’t yet walk on his own, Jessica relates, he can say some words, as well as recognize people and objects around him. Generally a happy child, there are no facial characteristics to set Ben apart.

There’s a younger child as well, Grayson, soon to be 2, born at full term and without complications. Jessica allows it can be a handful caring for Ben while keeping an eye on Grayson.

Prior to COVID-19, Jessica was occupied about three times a week with medical appointments for Ben in Ottawa, Cornwall and occasionally Toronto. The consultations have shifted online, good in terms of time management but nowhere near as effective as face-to-face medical visits.

“It’s hard to keep a three-year-old focused on the screen with a two-year-old running around beside us,” Jessica says, adding that Ben will need support for the rest of his life.

Ben Brown with brother Grayson (left).

With the help of his parents, Chris and Jessica are able to cover routine expenses. However, extraordinary costs related to Ben’s treatment have become very difficult.

Some recent costs have been covered thanks to a Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario worker who was able to access emergency funding for a $1,200 feeding pump and $900 for a feeding chair. Meanwhile, the Mountain Lions Club paid for a walker which extends as Ben grows.

Coming up are expenses for foot braces and a hand brace to prevent clenching for which, at least at the moment, there’s no funding. Routine weekly costs for Ben’s supplies are $50, with some currently washed and re-used. And the Browns are trying to save $1,500 for a trip to Toronto to attend a physio clinic which specializes in children with cerebral palsy.

“We have a friend that pays for her son to go to the clinic a few times a year and it has really helped him walk.”

For Parker, it’s a simple matter of getting behind neighbours in need: “I learned at a young age that help is always there… all you have to do is ask!”

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