‘Graham’s Champions’ team to walk for Down syndrome

Published 6:54 pm Thursday, September 21, 2017

Graham Reisig is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, happy-go-lucky three-year-old boy.

But, he’s got something others don’t — he was born with an extra chromosome, joining thousands of others in the country diagnosed with Down syndrome. Washington resident and Reisig’s mother, Rebecca Reisig, said that doesn’t make him any less special.

“He’s a sweet little kid. He smiles, and he does it with his whole face. His eyes sparkle. He’s just precious. He just hugs and hugs. He’s very loving,” Reisig said.

Tomorrow, Reisig and her family will walk as “Graham’s Champions,” a team of about 30 friends and family, to raise money and awareness for the disorder at eastern North Carolina’s inaugural Buddy Walk in Greenville.

“He’s been very triumphant, I guess that’s where the name came from. I just feel like he’s such a champion,” Reisig said. “We just celebrate with him. Every little thing he does, we just celebrate like crazy.”

Residents from eastern North Carolina have formed teams to walk at Greenville’s Town Common in hope of raising money and awareness for the cause. The Buddy Walk is an event created by the National Down Syndrome Society to raise money and promote acceptance for Down syndrome, and it’s taken place across the country since 1995. Reisig said there are Buddy Walks all over North Carolina —Jacksonville, Wilmington and Raleigh — but none northeastern North Carolina.

Tomorrow’s event is the product of eastern North Carolina Down Syndrome Network, an organization that falls under the umbrella of a bigger market: the Triangle Down Syndrome Network in Raleigh. The funds raised will help TDSN bring resources to the east.

Reisig is now on a mission to make sure future parents in eastern North Carolina will have the needed resources and love to raise a child with Down syndrome. She has been instrumental in helping the eastern North Carolina Down Syndrome Network bring resources to the eastern part of the state. The funds from the Buddy Walk will help new parents receive a “welcome baby bag” at hospitals filled with diapers, wipes and information about Down syndrome. The network will also work on medical outreach by making sure doctors have the knowledge and resources to help a family cope, according to Reisig.

“We felt so isolated and like nobody understood us. We felt like our pediatrician — we always felt like they wanted to help; they just didn’t really know how. They know how to care for the child, but not the family,” Reisig said.

Reisig said her son’s first year of life was far from easy — riddled with tears, trips to the doctor and threatening health issues. She said her son suffered from jaundice, as well as a collapsing trachea and difficulty breathing.

It was a tough time for Reisig and her family, but today, she rejoices watching her son reach childhood milestones.

“His first year of life, I don’t know that I could even talk to anybody. You feel lonely and isolated. I cried all the time. … You feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. I never thought I could cry that much,” Reisig said. “But now, I celebrate him. He really is truly amazing.”

Reisig said every single day is a learning experience for her and her family: how to raise a child and about the disorder.

“OK … you have an extra chromosome. It changes things a little bit, but what does that look like in real life?” Reisig said. “We’re learning just like any other parents.”

The event will be a celebration, according to Reisig. The quarter-mile walking path will be lined with photos of children with Down syndrome, making it a place for families to support each other and walk in unison. As of Thursday, 25 teams had raised nearly $22,000, just $8,000 short of the goal. Graham’s Champions had raised almost $5,000.

“That’s what were all about. Raising money; bringing support,” Reisig said.

The Buddy Walk is Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at Greenville Town Common, 105 E. First St., Greenville. The walk will begin at approximately 3 p.m. It is free and open to the public.