The medical community and parents of children with Down syndrome learned about the latest health care and wellness strategies for people with the genetic disorder at the first-ever West Texas Down Syndrome Health Symposium, held Dec. 2 at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso).
The day-long symposium was organized by the nonprofit GiGi’s Playhouse El Paso, part of a nationwide network of centers offering free therapeutic, educational and career-development programs for people with Down syndrome. The event was made possible by a grant from the Global Down Syndrome Foundation.
Down syndrome is a genetic chromosomal disorder that causes learning disabilities, developmental delays, and, in some individuals, health problems. The syndrome varies in severity among those who have it.
“The future of kids with Down syndrome has improved remarkably,” said Dr. Gilbert Handal, M.D., professor in the department of pediatrics at TTUHSC El Paso. “With new strategies and techniques, they live into their 60s. Every physician will find kids with Down syndrome in their practice, and they need to know how to manage their health care.”
Dr. Handal moderated a panel Q&A session featuring some of the symposium’s invited speakers.
The event’s keynote speaker was Nancy Gianni, founder of the nationwide network of GiGi’s Playhouses. Gianni, whose daughter, GiGi, was born with Down syndrome, was recognized as a CNN Hero in 2016 for her efforts to grow the GiGi’s Playhouse network. Its 33 locations now serve approximately 30,000 families.
The symposium offered two tracks: one for medical professionals, and another for the families and caregivers of people with Down syndrome. Presenters spoke to both groups.
Invited speakers included the following notable Down syndrome researchers and experts on developmental disabilities:
- Brian Chicoine, M.D., co-founder and medical director of the Adult Down Syndrome Center at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago
- George Capone, M.D., director of the Down Syndrome Clinic and Research Center at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore
- Sarah Mann, D.P.T., owner of Mann Method Physical Therapy and Fitness and a specialist in working with adolescents and adults with Down syndrome
- Dennis McGuire, Ph.D., the Global Down Syndrome Foundation’s senior consultant for adult initiatives
“The symposium was very well received,” said Maggie Moody, executive director of GiGi’s Playhouse El Paso. “The caliber of speakers was amazing.”