Optimism, family support keep Granite Quarry woman online
By Brent Johnson
Angelina Kauffman has experienced a series of trying times in her life and hasn’t even been to a high school reunion yet.
“Its been a very busy 10 years,” Kauffman said.
At 28, Kauffman is a U.S. Army veteran; a recent graduate of the University of Phoenix, who’s held a full-time job throughout her studies; a wife; and the mother of a child with special needs.
Her son, Julian, now almost 7, has Down syndrome and leukemia.
“Its not going to change,” she said. “We accept him for who he is.”
Kauffman joined the military in 2000 as a medic and met her husband, Mark, in 2001. She was 22; he was 19.
Just before Julian’s birth in 2002, doctors tested a small amount of amniotic fluid and diagnosed the unborn infant with Down syndrome. The situation was especially unusual because parents as young as the Kauffmans rarely conceive a child with Down syndrome.
“I’ve had a lot of support from my husband and family,” said Kauffman.
When Julian was born, doctors told the Kauffmans their son also had myelodysplastic syndrome, a pre-leukemia extremely rare in children. There was hope that the myelodysplastic syndrome wouldn’t progress to leukemia. But it did.
“In the beginning, we were going to the hospital every two weeks,” Kauffman said.
Julian’s case was bizarre, which qualified him to enroll in a scientific study that put the two diseases against each other. Down syndrome acts as a barrier to leukemia, making the patient less vulnerable to chemotherapeutic treatment.
“Sometimes his blood would show abnormal cells, sometimes not,” said Kauffman.
Kauffman also had a full-time job working for Parents as Teachers, a nonprofit family education and support program.
Even in the tough times, she remained optimistic.
The No. 1 thing is our faith,” Kauffman said.
“We go to church, we pray, we have plenty of friends and family who have supported us,” she said.
That support helped when she decided to attend online classes through the University of Phoenix.
Though the university is convenient, she said, “You have to be online five out of seven days a week, be involved in team projects and submit at least one 10-page paper per week.”
“I’d stay up all night sometimes or bring my laptop to the hospital and be at class at 4 a.m.,” Kauffman said. “In the middle of all this is my son.”
Julian was in and out of the hospital 30 times. Twelve of the stays were for surgery and four, for blood transfusions. He was discharged from Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in 2007 and his last surgery took place this past March.
Kauffman received her bachelor’s degree in human services in July and plans to begin studying for her master’s in education in January.
“Without the University of Phoenix, it would not have been possible,” Kauffman said.
Partners in Learning helped Julian by placing him in an inclusion program with kids his age who were experiencing similar disabilities.
“They really helped him by making him work,” said Kauffman.
The program taught him things like how to feed himself with utensils and how to use the restroom.
Julian is still attending occupational, speech and physical therapy at Rowan Regional Medical Center. He will start kindergarten at Overton Elementary School this fall.
“He’s had a lot of ear infections, but he’s happy everywhere he goes,” Kauffman said.
The Kauffmans will be having another son in October. Blood tests show no signs of an unhealthy child.
“Even though they’ll have seven years apart, their developmental stages won’t be very far apart.” said Kauffman. “I know Julian will be very loving.”
Julian is currently with Arc (Association for Retarded Citizens), an organization that supports those with mental disabilities. To Julian it’s “just another place to play,” Kauffman said.