10 Minutes with: Angie Wingerden
Meet Angie, mom to Eila and twin brothers Jack and Willem. Inspired to contribute her skills toward creating a better life for Eila who was born with a rare genetic condition called FOXG1, Angie volunteers as the CFO and Head of Operations for the FOXG1 Research Foundation.
Below, Angie tells us more about her work with the Foundation, shares a few stories of life with Elia and talks about what it’s like - both the challenges and the rewards - to be a mom to a child with special needs.
MTEAM: Tell us a bit about yourself and your family.
ANGIE WINGERDEN: Hi, I am Angie, mom to Eila who is 15-years -old and has FOXG1 syndrome. We live just outside Ottawa, Ontario, in Canada. Eila has twin brothers - Jack and Willem who are turning 11, and dad Jeremy, along with our dog Fergus and some chickens. We spend a lot of time living outdoors enjoying nature and our country setting.
MTEAM: You’re the CFO and Head of Operations for the FOXG1 Research Foundation. What led you to become involved in this organization and why is it important to you?
AW: Yes, I am the CFO for FOXG1 Research Foundation, a new role to me just last fall. It came about when I volunteered my time to help them plan the Science Symposium in San Diego last November. See, I am an event planner by day and I believe in sharing my skillset to give back to our FOXG1 community. No one is as passionate as a parent with a child afflicted with this syndrome, and it makes me feel good to be doing my part to help our kids. I had watched closely the impact this new foundation was having globally to fundraise and then fund research and being a passionate mom to a child with FOXG1 syndrome, I knew there was an opportunity to help. When they asked me after the symposium to join the board, it just made sense to continue my efforts to help any way I could.
MTEAM: For those who have never heard of FOXG1, can you help us understand a bit about what it is and how it manifests itself? How has this condition touched your own life and perhaps even changed the course of it?
AW: No parent is ever prepared for a non-typical baby experience. Especially as a first time parent, you are learning so much as it is, as it is all new to you. You blissfully think it will be just like you see all around you, snuggles, dirty diapers, burping, play, sitting, walking, talking. Then to have a baby that cries in an inconsolable way for days on end, and to watch that baby not learn typical skills like sitting up, reaching and grabbing to play with objects, or even smiling and laughing is very hard. To spend 11 years watching them never typically develop and be poked to have blood, skin, and muscle samples taken to try to find the answer? We were grateful to have found our answer, even if it took 11 years, because now we are part of this community who share similar stories of challenges and tips to support each other! Because this is a neurological syndrome, it effects Eila's entire body system. She is non-mobile, using a wheelchair to get around; she is non verbal, we have never heard the words “I love you”; she has sleep disturbances, feeding difficulties, lots of GI issues, eye sight issues, anything that requires a message from the brain to muscle movement is difficult. I have grieved. I have celebrated. We have made big compromises in how and where we raise our family to make caring for our daughter a lifetime commitment. It is not the mom life I would have expected, but it really is rewarding and I can't imagine it any differently.
MTEAM: What is a typical day at the FOXG1 Research Foundation like for you?
AW: Each of our roles at the foundation are volunteer, which means I balance full time work and parent life along with the duties of the foundation. It can be tricky, but luckily it can be fit in any day or time of the day as needed. I maintain bookkeeping records for the foundation, provide monthly financial reports for each board meeting, work with an accountant to produce year end financial statements and the annual report. I also assist with fundraising efforts, donor relationships and communication and assist our Canadian families with completing the patient registry.
MTEAM: Tell us a bit more about Eila and her personality! (How old is she? What does she love most? What makes her happy? What makes her uniquely Eila??)
AW: Eila is a happy-go-lucky girl; similar to the other stories you have shared, her smile and laughter can fill a room! She has a magnetic personality that others are drawn to. She is a social butterfly and loves school. She loves to use her walking frame to travel through the halls and cafeteria and seems to especially like visiting the weight room to watch the boys and listen to their tunes blaring. Typical teen :) She loves music, all kinds. She loves books and movies, and a good joke!
MTEAM: What’s one thing you’re proud of having accomplished through the FOXG1 Research Foundation so far?
AW: I'm proud to have been welcomed so warmly into this group of dedicated, powerful, resilient women, to be part of a small team leading great things happening globally for the future of our kids. It's an exciting place to be right now. Things are happening so fast for the better of our kids.
MTEAM: What have been some of your biggest challenges and the best rewards along your journey with FOXG1 so far (ether with Eila or through your work)?
AW: Biggest challenges have been watching my child in distress and not knowing how to help her. It is painful to not be able to understand without words what is going on in her body that can cause such discomfort and try to solve it. Every day is a reward with Eila. I have watched her brothers growing into compassionate young boys with such big hearts. I have been privileged to employ and work alongside some amazing people in our community, who dedicate their life to working with children with special needs. I have seen the community rally and support us with awareness events and fundraisers when it came to needing equipment and other items. It really does take a village, and I am thankful for ours.
MTEAM: What advice would you offer to other parents who are just finding out about a similar diagnosis? How can they advocate for their own children? What resources do they have available to them either through the FOXG1 Research Foundation or elsewhere?
AW: I would want other parents to know we have all lived it or are living it. The family group on Facebook is a great resource to ask questions and look for support. Our foundation has initiated a caregiver committee and a special fund to assist caregivers in need. We have already sent caregiving packages to parents in hospital with their sick child, and started a resource file for families looking for therapy, camps, support groups, other resources in their areas. They are working on lots of great ideas for the future to lessen the burden, help caregivers, and know they are supported by our community.
MTEAM: What are some of the key changes that would make the world a more inclusive place for children born with FOXG1?
AW: Access to consistent, available therapy, assisted devices and equipment. These things are all very expensive. For the average family, to be able to provide them to watch their child succeed is impossible!
MTEAM: If there was one thing you’d most like the world to know or understand about Eila or about FOXG1 generally, what would it be?
AW: Eila and children like her are trapped in a body that can't express themselves the way they would like. To remember that is key; treat them with dignity and respect, always assume competency. Like every human, they want friendship, someone to listen and love them back.