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In Colorado, a new medical practice treats Down syndrome kids


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John Burger - published on 03/25/21

Partnership between Jerome Lejeune Foundation and local Bella Health + Wellness offers hope for families.

Just south of Denver, a new partnership kicked off on March 21 to provide medical care for persons with Down syndrome.

The partnership is between Englewood’s Bella Health + Wellness, a nonprofit holistic medical practice, and the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, the American branch of a French foundation carrying on the work of Dr. Jerome Lejeune. The Jerome Lejeune Medical Center promises to offer holistic consultations for people with Down syndrome.

For years, a medical center of this kind has operated in Paris, where the Jerome Lejeune Foundation and Institute carry on the work of the geneticist who discovered the genetic underpinnings of Down syndrome. Lejeune, who for years treated Down syndrome patients in Paris and died in 1994, might one day be declared a saint by the Catholic Church. Just three months ago, he was declared “Venerable,” following an investigation that concluded he had lived a life of “heroic virtue.”

“The unique aspect of the medical center in France is that it is fully holistic and research-based care,” Keith Mason, executive director of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, told the Denver Catholic Register. “This is the first Jerome Lejeune Medical Center in the United States.”

Dede Chism, CEO and co-founder of Bella, explained the approach of the medical practice.

“Caring for the individual means caring for the family — and really looking to that body, mind, soul care,” she told the Register. 

Children with Down syndrome will be the center’s first clients, but the center hopes to expand care to include adults. According to the Lejeune Foundation, comprehensive, holistic consultations will be adapted to the needs of each patient and his caregivers. Eventually, the Register said, the center plans to expand services to provide lifelong multidisciplinary care to include physical therapy, speech therapy and more. 

“It’s specialized care,” Mason, whose two-year-old daughter Maria has Down syndrome, told the newspaper. “The patients will still see their primary care doctors, they’ll just have access now to the specialized care we offer in France, which hasn’t been available to them before because of distance, language and other factors.” 

The dedication was preceded by a Mass celebrated by Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of Denver in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. At the service, David Lejeune, president of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation USA, read a letter from Jean-Marie Le Méné, president of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation France. 

Le Méné noted that while it was a “microscopic virus” that made it impossible for him to be at the dedication, that was only proof that “diseases don’t have frontiers.” The genetic condition that causes Down syndrome respects no borders either, and that is what brought Jerome Lejeune so frequently to the United States. 

“Jerome Lejeune was very fond of the United States,” Le Méné wrote. “He made more than 40 conferences across the country, from New York to San Francisco, going through Washington, Birmingham, Dallas, Miami. He constantly strove to defend the life of people with Down syndrome from their conception, and to promote research and care, convinced that we will cure this disease.”

One of the first families to sign up for care at the new medical center is the Martin family: Michaelann and Curtis Martin, who founded the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). The Martins’ seven-year-old son Michael has Down syndrome. 

Michaelann Martin called the partnership between Bella, of which she is a board member, and the Lejeune Foundation, a “match made in heaven.”

“The synergy between Bella and the Lejeune doctors and staff is really dynamic and so faith-based,” she told the Register. “In our secular society, to be able to share your faith in the doctor’s office is unique.” 

Martin said that some secular medical practices promote sterilization and contraception for people with Down syndrome. She said she will be interested to see how the practice talks to their adolescent patients about purity and chastity from a faith-based medical perspective.

Read more:
Pope on Down Syndrome Day: Every child is a gift to whole family

Jerome Lejeune

Read more:
Venerable Jérôme Lejeune, a scientist driven by faith and charity

Down Syndrome
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