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Thunder player finds joy in family struggles
By Lori Gilbert
Record Sports Columnist
April 08, 2007 6:00 AM
It doesn't take long for Stockton Thunder defenseman Beau Geisler to get over a loss.
It's not because when he walks into his home he's confronted with the reality that there are greater challenges to overcome than losing a hockey game. Rather, it's because he's overcome with sheer joy.
It envelopes him whenever he looks at his 21-month-old twin sons, Wyatt and Bryce, who were born with Down syndrome.
He and his wife, Heidi, devout Christians, view their boys as a gift.
"We believe God won't give you any more than you can handle," Beau said. "God gave us two children with Down syndrome, so we must be able to handle them."
"I love the reaction I get when I take them to the store," Heidi said. "I get triple takes. They say, 'Oh, you have twins.' Then they realize they have Down syndrome. I am so proud to be their mother. ... Everywhere I go, people tell me how beautiful they are."
Beau, 26, and Heidi, 22, came to Stockton in October for Beau's third season of a professional hockey career that began in Reading, Pa., with an ECHL team, followed by a season in Latvia.
The couple, who first met at the Evangelical Free Church in Grand Rapids, Minn., that Beau's parents had helped start, married in July, 2004 and wanted to have a family right away.
Beau, the eldest of 11 children, almost always had a baby in his house. Heidi, though, was the youngest of three girls and had no experience with infants, but Beau convinced her motherhood would come naturally.
They were ecstatic when they learned in November, 2004, that Heidi was pregnant. At the six-week mark, an ultrasound revealed twins.
"We were just giggling the whole way home," Heidi said.
Twins didn't run in the Geisler family until Beau's mom, Ruthie, delivered two sets of twin girls.
His mother wasn't there to celebrate his good news. She died when Beau was 10. She learned she had leukemia when she went to deliver the last of her seven children and died 13 days later.
The rest of the family, though, which had grown to 11 children when Beau's father married a woman with two children and then they had two more of their own, was ecstatic.
News that the first grandchildren of Beau and Heidi's families would be twins made for a Merry Christmas in 2004.
Wyatt arrived first, on July 3, 2005, and Beau beamed with pride. He saw a perfect baby, but the doctor told him they would need to run a test for Down syndrome.
"Bryce wasn't even born, so obviously when he told me that I was like, 'OK, I've got to be with Heidi because she's delivering our other baby. I went to her and she delivered Bryce," Beau said.
"The hospital's pretty small, and I was wheeling (the babies) back to our room and I met her mom and dad, and they're like 'Is everything all right?' I didn't know what to say, so I just said, 'Yeah, they're doing great.' I was still in shock. I didn't know anything about Down syndrome."
He didn't know it is caused by an extra chromosome, that 1 in 800 to 1,000 babies in this country are born with the condition. And while older women are more susceptible to having babies with Down syndrome, 80 percent of babies are born to mothers under the age of 35, just because more younger women deliver babies.
When Beau welcomed his newborn children, he didn't want to think that his boys would develop more slowly than other children, that they would be more likely to have heart or digestive track problems.
"I wanted to enjoy their birth, their new life, my two new sons," Beau said. "I wanted to enjoy that, take that all in. Maybe an hour later they could have told me, let us enjoy the moment."
Instead, doctors had told the two separately, and Beau needed to talk to Heidi.
They were shocked. They cried together, and wondered why.
Those thoughts were momentary.
"We were at the point when they were born, we just wanted to hold them and be near them," said Heidi, who went from not knowing if she could be a mother to suddenly being a mom with two special needs children. "Beau and I, when we had them, knew we would give them ... "
She started to cry, admonishing herself for giving way to tears.
"We knew we would give them the best life we could, and treat them great, and everything we'd do with a normal child, we'd do with them.
"We're not going to hold them back. We won't be ashamed of them."
The two boys seem just like any other toddlers as they run around the family's north Stockton home, stuffing basketballs into a miniature hoop, turning on the television set, riding their three-wheel bikes and playing with a stash of toys.
Teaching them to sit up, to crawl, to walk and communicate has just taken more time and effort on the part of the parents.
"You learn a new kind of patience," Heidi said. "It's more like perseverance."
Sitting came at seven months, when they were in Latvia. Walking came last fall, after they'd moved here. They also learned to ride their tricycles and took their first swim in a blow-up pool during this stop of their daddy's professional hockey career.
Although Beau considered retirement as recently as two summers ago, Stockton has been a great fit for him and his family. Playing the game he loves a few more years seems more likely.
"We want them to be proud of their dad, to know he played professional hockey, and that they lived in Europe and California," Heidi said.
Hockey is in his immediate future, but Beau looks further down the road when he looks at his twins.
"I've changed my thoughts, my dreams," Geisler said. "I love hunting and fishing. Maybe they won't be able to do that. Maybe they will. One day I'd like to be able to take them with me. I'd like to take them four-wheeling."
He wants to show them the things he loves, just as the parent of any child does. It's the same vision he and Heidi have held since their babies were born and they learned they had Down syndrome.
"We had two awesome kids. We just had to shift our focus," Heidi said. "We still have dreams of a child who can run and play, but we put them in a new direction."
The boys challenge one another. When Bryce sees Wyatt stuff the ball through the basketball hoop, he wants to do it, too.
"I'm so glad I have two boys with Down syndrome and not one," Heidi said. "They'll be there for each other."
Eventually, Beau and Heidi expect to add to their family.
In the meantime, raising the twins is demanding enough.
"Every now and then, when it's hard, you're overwhelmed, and if the thought (of why) crosses my mind, I know why. It's because we're meant to be their parents. We're perfect for them," Heidi said.
Added Beau, "We don't want anyone else to have them. We feel lucky, fortunate."
Contact columnist Lori Gilbert at (209) 546-8284 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her blog.
Normally, at the time of conception a baby inherits genetic information from its parents in the form of 46 chromosomes: 23 from each parent. In most cases of Down syndrome, however, a child gets an extra chromosome for a total of 47 chromosomes. It’s this extra genetic material that causes the physical and cognitive delays associated with Down syndrome.
The cause is unknown, although it isn’t caused by environmental factors or anything the mother does before or during her pregnancy.
It occurs in one of every 800 births. Maternal age is the only factor that has been linked to an increased chance of having a baby with Down syndrome. A 35-year-old woman has a one in 350 chance of conceiving a child with Down syndrome. By age 45, the incidence has increased to one in 30. However, because younger women have higher fertility rates, 80 percent of babies with Down syndrome are born to women under the age of 35.
Kids with Down syndrome tend to share certain physical features such as a flat facial profile, an upward slant to the eyes, small ears, a single crease across the center of the palms, and an enlarged tongue.
Low muscle tone and loose joints are also characteristic of children with Down syndrome.
Half of all children born with Down syndrome also have congenital heart defects and are prone to developing pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs). Approximately half of all kids with Down syndrome also have problems with hearing and vision. Other medical conditions that may occur more frequently in children with Down syndrome include thyroid problems, intestinal abnormalities, seizure disorders, respiratory problems, obesity, an increased susceptibility to infection and a higher risk of childhood leukemia. Diagnostic tests for pregnant women are about 99 percent accurate in detecting Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities.
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