Program for those with special needs provides ‘night off’ for caregivers

Christian “Koehl” Meyer, 21, was born with Down syndrome and he had open heart surgery when he was 3 1/2 months old. He has attended several "One Special Night" events at Berachah Church in Middletown. Attendees are treated like royalty with each person getting crowned king or queen on stage, NICK GRAHAM / STAFFT

Combined ShapeCaption
Christian “Koehl” Meyer, 21, was born with Down syndrome and he had open heart surgery when he was 3 1/2 months old. He has attended several "One Special Night" events at Berachah Church in Middletown. Attendees are treated like royalty with each person getting crowned king or queen on stage, NICK GRAHAM / STAFFT

Local couple shares story of being parents of man with Down syndrome

This isn’t where Dale and Cindy Meyer thought they’d be at this time in their lives.

As parents of two adult children, the Meyers planned to be near retirement and excited about spending cherished time with their grandchildren and on deserved vacations.

That was The Plan.

Scratch the plan.

But that doesn’t mean the Wayne Twp. couple wishes they could rewrite their family history.

“This is not what I mapped out for myself,” said Cindy Meyers, who left her accounting profession to care for her son. “But I would not change it at all.”

After having a daughter, Grace, 25 years ago, the Meyers found out they were expecting a son four years later.

Christian “Koehl” Meyer, now 21, was born with Down syndrome and he had open heart surgery when he was 3 1/2 months old. That’s right. Three. And. A. Half. Months. Old.

That was followed by a leukemia diagnosis when he was 1. He has kidney and liver disease, anti-immune deficiencies, orthopedic issues and he’s hearing impaired.

He’s a walking medical miracle, this young man.

“We see about every specialist,” his mother said about frequent visits to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus.

So that leave little time for social activities for the Meyers who have been married for 35 years.

Most of their energy is centered around Koehl’s medical problems.

But last week, through to a program called “One Special Night,” the Meyers and other parents and caregivers of children with special needs, were given one night of respite thanks to the staff and team of volunteers at Berachah Church in Middletown.

The fourth annual event attracted 77 people with special needs and each was crowned Kings or Queens and their parents were pampered with dinner, chair massages and gift packages.

“It was great that he had a place to go where he could dance with friends, and as a parent, it’s great to see him having fun,” his mother said. “We spend so much time in the hospital. This was a chance to go do something fun.”

Koehl, sitting in the car with his parents, said his favorite part of the evening was dancing.

Lamar Ferrell, pastor at Berachah, and his wife, Maryanne, have a daughter, Elley, who was born 19 years ago with spina bifida. Like the Meyers, the Ferrells didn’t plan to raise a child with special needs.

But as the pastor said: “Detours are amazing.”

Without events like “One Special Night,” children with special needs sometimes are “forgotten” when it comes to social activities, Ferrell said.

He never will forget Christian “Koehl” Meyer, who showed up dressed as the “Greatest Showman” one year.

“He captured my heart,” Ferrell said. “He’s larger than life.”

Koehl has that impact on people, his mom said. He was named Homecoming Prince his freshman year at Edgewood High School and was crowned Homecoming King as a senior. During one Homecoming parade, as Koehl sat in his wheelchair off to the side of the street, Edgewood football players came over and pushed him down Main Street.

“He has had a spectacular life,” his mom said.

Besides all his medical challenges, Koehl also has sleep apnea. Sometimes when he wants to sleep, he leans forward and closes his eyes. His mother knows he’s uncomfortable.

“He’s not a complainer,” she said. “He makes the best of what happens. It’s a lesson for all of us. He puts everybody else first. It’s just the opposite of what’s happening in our world today where everyone is out for No. 1. God puts kids like Koehl on this earth to teach all of us a lesson how to live.”

She didn’t want to slight her daughter. Grace Campbell, a 2014 Edgewood graduate. She has earned her bachelor’s degree in neurobiology at the University of Cincinnati and will apply this year for its medical school.

“I’m very pleased,” said Cindy Meyer, 58. “I don’t have any regrets. I have two great kids. We did our job. We brought two great people in the world.”

Combined ShapeCaption
Christian “Koehl” Meyer, 21, was born with Down syndrome and he had open heart surgery when he was 3 1/2 months old. He has attended several "One Special Night" events at Berachah Church in Middletown. Attendees are treated like royalty with each person getting crowned king or queen on stage, Last year the them was Heroes Unite with many volunteers dressed as superheroes. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Christian “Koehl” Meyer, 21, was born with Down syndrome and he had open heart surgery when he was 3 1/2 months old. He has attended several "One Special Night" events at Berachah Church in Middletown. Attendees are treated like royalty with each person getting crowned king or queen on stage, Last year the them was Heroes Unite with many volunteers dressed as superheroes. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Combined ShapeCaption
Christian “Koehl” Meyer, 21, was born with Down syndrome and he had open heart surgery when he was 3 1/2 months old. He has attended several "One Special Night" events at Berachah Church in Middletown. Attendees are treated like royalty with each person getting crowned king or queen on stage, Last year the them was Heroes Unite with many volunteers dressed as superheroes. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Combined ShapeCaption
Christian "Koehl" Meyer, left, attended this year's "One Special Night" at Berachah Church in Middletown where Lamar Ferrell is pastor. SUBMITTED

Christian "Koehl" Meyer, left, attended this year's "One Special Night" at Berachah Church in Middletown where Lamar Ferrell is pastor. SUBMITTED

Combined ShapeCaption
Christian "Koehl" Meyer, left, attended this year's "One Special Night" at Berachah Church in Middletown where Lamar Ferrell is pastor. SUBMITTED

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