By JOE SUTTER
At a new gallery in Trinity Regional Medical Center, organizers are hoping their pictures are worth one million voices.
The "i have a voice" gallery from GiGi's Playhouse in Des Moines will be on display in the lobby in front of the Trinity gift shop throughout the month of December. The gallery features photos and stories of 42 children and adults with Down syndrome.
"It's just a symbolic thing to raise publicity," said Norm Davis of Newton, as he helped set up the gallery Saturday morning. "Because a lot of times they get overlooked, people with Down syndrome or kids with Down syndrome. And this is something that lets them say 'I've got a voice like you.'"
Eric Land, Ankeny, and Hiedi Touney also helped put up the display. Touney's husband Ed Touney is an ER doctor at TRMC; the Touneys helped bring the program to Fort Dodge.
All three have a child with Down syndrome. Davis' daughter Natalie is featured in the gallery.
"The photographer likes to do things with hands," Davis said. "Our daughter is our sunshine, so we have a sunshine on her hand."
GiGi's Playhouse started in Chicago, and now has 15 locations nationwide and one in Mexico City. In Iowa there's one in Des Moines, Sioux City and the Quad Cities, Land said. The gallery at TRMC features people from Iowa.
"It's just to bring awareness to how people with Down syndrome these days are excelling," Land said. "We like to be a support group for people who are going through having children with Down syndrome. It's kind of a shock at first. But we want to get it out there that, you know what? They're just like your other kids, and you're going to love it."
Touney said how great it has been watching her 4-year-old son Benjamin grow up.
"Ben is a very curious child. He has his likes and dislikes," she said. "He loves to play outside. Everything takes just a little longer, so you really realize the phases he's going through.
"We've had great support through the AEA here in town, and he goes to preschool up at Riverside, and has wonderful teachers out there. He loves books."
Davis agreed that it was a shock at first. He and his wife didn't know Natalie had Down syndrome until after she was born.
"I don't know, you have these hopes and dreams and goals set forth prior to your knowledge of it, and once our daughter was born, my wife described it as, 'Okay, what am I going to do with all those dreams I had?'" he said.
GiGi's Playhouse told the couple they could keep their dreams, just tweak their goals a little bit.
"And that's true," Davis said. "Our daughter has proved so far to be so capable of so much and has taught me and my wife so much. It's completely humbled us, it's given me a new aspect on life and truly showed me the meaning of unconditional love.
"I don't know, I look at trees different, I look at the land different," he said.
GiGi's Playhouse provides educational and social support to around 300 children and young adults with Down syndrome in the Des Moines metro area. It provides free skill development programs, including a literacy program.
"Part of our mission is to educate medical people as to that this isn't a death sentence," said Land. "Translate that on when you're talking to patients about this. Don't be so down about it.
"We give all the hospitals booklets to share with perspective parents who are dealing with this, that it's not all that bad. There's support there for them, it's going to be okay, and even better than you probably think."
"My wife started crying when she heard it," said Davis, "and I just said 'Yes, we're going to the Special Olympics.'"