Mom takes charge

Gambill organizes Fort Dodge Walk for Williams Syndrome

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter Amber Gambill and her son, Brecken, show off their smiles. Brecken Gambill was born with Williams syndrome. Amber Gambill has organized the first Fort Dodge Walk for Williams Syndrome, which will be held June 25 at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park.

A rare condition that is largely unknown to Iowans will be getting some attention in Fort Dodge next weekend when the inaugural Fort Dodge Walk for Williams Syndrome is held.

It will be held June 25 at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park.

The walk, which is mean to raise awareness for Williams syndrome, was the idea of Am­ber Gambill, of Fort Dodge.

Her son, Brecken Gambill, who turns 5 in July, was diagnosed with the condition when he was just 6 months old.

Amber Gambill explained that Williams syndrome is a genetic condition that is present at birth and it affects one in 10,000 people.

She added that those suffering Williams syndrome may experience heart issues, low birth weight, feeding issues, developmental delays and learning disabilities.

Gambill also said people with Williams syndrome have the same facial features.

For the past two years, Gambill has been participating in a Williams syndrome walk in Omaha, Nebraska.

She described the walk as “eye-opening.”

“We met a lot of really cool people, and now we’re connected to a Facebook support group,” she said, “which kind of helped me accept Brecken’s diagnosis.”

But while traveling to Omaha was beneficial, Gambill said she was shocked that there was nothing in Iowa dedicated to Williams syndrome.

That’s what led to her planning the Fort Dodge Walk for Williams Syndrome, which is believed to be the first walk for the condition in the state.

Gambill and her family have received plenty of support both locally and statewide.

“(Fort Dodge Mayor) Matt Bemrich signed a proclamation for us back in the beginning of May and that was pretty cool,” she said.

Additionally, Gambill went down to the state house for then-Gov. Terry Branstad’s signing of a proclamation declaring May as Williams Syndrome Awareness Month across the state.

“It’s led to us talking with other families, which is cool, and raising awareness,” she said.

Gambill said her son has his struggles with Williams syndrome.

“He has feeding issues, which is kind of hard,” she said. “He still eats purees because his muscle tone is so weak that he can’t move his tongue to push food back to swallow and the chewing.”

He’s also just now learning how to talk, and most of his communication is done non-verbally.

But Brecken Gambill is also lucky, according to his mother.

“We’re really blessed that his heart issues are very minimal,” Amber Gambill said. “He physically is on track, so that’s awesome. Some Williams kids aren’t walking. There’s just a lot of different severities of Williams syndrome.”

She attributed that to his doctor, who diagnosed Williams syndrome early on, so Brecken could start therapy and treatment quickly.

Not all who suffer from Williams syndrome are diagnosed that early.

“I had friends that found out later, at 4, 5, 6 years old,” she said. “And they’ve missed all that therapy they could have been getting.”

Those who attend the walk will be able to meet him, as well as other children and adults who suffer from Williams syndrome.

“He’s a pretty outgoing guy,” Amber Gambill said of her son, “and people tend to fall in love with him pretty quick.”

The walk will also feature a silent auction and raffle, as well as activities for children such as face painting.

Gambill said she hopes that the walk raises awareness of Williams syndrome in not just Fort Dodge, but across Iowa.

“I’m hoping that this is something we can do annually and just that we draw those families out with Williams syndrome and open doors for them that maybe they wouldn’t otherwise have had,” she said.

Gambill added that she feels today, people with disabilities are accepted more readily than they’ve ever been.

“I think in this day and age, people are becoming a lot more open to people with disabilities and I just want people to know that people with Williams syndrome aren’t much different than anyone else,” she said. “Brecken has his struggles, but he still loves everything everyone else does and I just want him to have an opportunity with the future that he might not otherwise have if we weren’t doing the awareness things.”

The cost for entry at the walk is $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Children 2 and under can enter for free.

The walk begins at 1 p.m. on June 25.