St. Mary's clinic helping children do what so many may take for - 14 News, WFIE, Evansville, Henderson, Owensboro

St. Mary's clinic helping children do what so many may take for granted

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Now, Faith's fighting to catch up to other kids her age who are walking, talking, and eating. Now, Faith's fighting to catch up to other kids her age who are walking, talking, and eating.

For many, a big part of Thanksgiving is the turkey dinner with all the trimmings.

But that's not a possibility for everyone, including some young children.

Not because they don't have food, but because their bodies won't cooperate with the eating process.

The Feeding Clinic at St. Mary's is doing what it can to change that, by helping children and their families from all over the country.

During her pregnancy, Annmarie knew her daughter would be born with a heart condition, but she never imagined just how scary those first few minutes would be.

"She was born not breathing, totally purple, blue and lifeless," Annmarie recalled."When she was in the NICU, like Day 1, I whispered in her ear and I said 'Fight for me.' And she does."

It began at birth and carried over into her first open-heart surgery three days later.

Now, Faith's fighting to catch up to other kids her age who are walking, talking, and eating.

For most children, it's instinctual.

But for Faith, it's a slow and time-consuming process.

"These children need to be taught every single detail," said Annmarie. "Moving their tongue, chewing, swallowing, moving their lips."

After a year and a half of frustration, Annmarie and her husband turned to St. Mary's Feeding Clinic for help. It's an 8-hour drive from their home in Michigan.

When they first arrived, Faith wasn't able to eat anything.

Instead she received food through a tube in her stomach, 15 times a day.

It was heartbreaking, and humiliating, for Annmarie.

"It is so foreign to not be able to take care of your child and feed them, it's horrible."

And that's where Anna Myers comes in.

She's a certified occupational therapist assistant who teaches Faith how to eat.

"everybody gets a hands on approach, with the kids we just help them with their strength and their coordination of their facial muscles and we help them with controlling the volume that they can take in," Anna said.

Before their 45 minute sessions, Anna carefully prepares and weighs Faith's meals.

Each ounce, every calorie is planned and recorded.

Before lunch, the little girl goes through a series of stretches designed to strengthen the muscles around her tiny mouth.

It's not always an easy or enjoyable process, but through two inpatient visits to the Feeding Clinic over about six weeks, Annmarie's watched her daughter make remarkable progress.

"They did more in one week than the previous year and a half of therapy at home," Annmarie noted.

"I think I say it on a daily basis, that we work miracles here," Anna told 14 News.

And for Faith, they come one swallow at a time.

Such a simple action, that most don't ever think about it.

Here, it's worth celebrating.

"We have people that you know laugh or cry we've had a few people dance so some little moments that you have, throughout the day, are really big moments," Anna said.

So, as many sit down to a huge Thanksgiving feast, the Richarts are just thankful their daughter can eat at all.

"Even at this point, to have her at the table and be able to offer her something and her open her mouth, that's huge," said Annmarie.

"We're definitely changing lives," said Anna. "I think we're changing lives in these children and we're changing lives in these families"

Faith still has a lot of work ahead of her, but with the clinic's help, the hope is that one day, food will be just a part of her life, instead of what her life revolves around.

That she'll be able to sample Thanksgiving dinner, or that ice cream cone her mother can't wait to buy.

"Even the fact, if she'll be willing to stick her tongue out and lick it, you know what I mean? That'll be a victory."

Faith should be back at the Feeding Clinic for another visit before her third open heart surgery in July.

Earlier this year, St. Mary's completed an expansion and renovation to the clinic that doubled the number of feeding rooms.

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