How Kelsi Found Her Voice

August 23, 2013

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Seven year old Kelsi Owen is a champion of “Bunny Rescue,” an organization that helps find homes for abandoned rabbits. She owns her own bunny, Whiffle , who was a gift in celebration of Kelsi’s progress away from autism and her growth into a typical 7 year old. Kelsi is one success story of a child whose family, at their lowest point, decided to fight for their daughter’s recovery from her autism diagnoses. But by no means was the journey an easy one.

Kelsi was diagnosed with autism when she was three; however, her parents concerns started six months earlier. “She slowly became pickier about food,” says Kelsi’s mother, Melissa. “At 2 ½ she was using a couple of phrases, but suddenly stopped talking. She’d have tantrums and was frustrated because she couldn’t say what she wanted, and frequently was totally unresponsive.”

Kelsi-2009Kelsi’s diagnosis devastated Melissa. “It was terrible,” she says. “A doctor delivered the diagnosis by telling us that Kelsi was out to lunch.’” I thought how could this be happening to our little girl? I didn’t know if my child was going to come out of this. Her symptoms were so hard on her and for our entire family. You live with it night and day.”

Melissa’s husband, Kelly, refused to accept that there was no hope for his daughter and for his family. Together the Owens began seeking answers that would help Kelsi and change the future for their daughter.

Kelsi’s uncontrollable tantrums made public outings impossible.  Many families that have children on the autism spectrum become hostages in their own home. Countless nights and weekends were spent searching the internet, looking for help and connecting with other families in the same situation.

“We never gave up hope,” Melissa says. “I would get weak for a moment but never gave up hope.”

They then found a doctor who assessed and treated Kelsi from a biomedical perspective. “We started introducing changes in diet and supplements, one at a time. Kelsi responded to almost everything we did,” says Melissa.

The Owens witnessed great success with Kelsi from a behavioral point of view, but noticed that her speech was still lagging far behind and that she had a limited attention span. That’s when they tried hyperbaric oxygen therapy as prescribed by her doctor. “The improvements we noticed were cognitive. Her teacher she had last year had seen her after being gone for the summer. We were probably around Kelsi’s twentieth hyperbaric treatment. I asked, ‘Have you noticed any difference with Kelsi?’ And her teacher said ‘Yes her language is really coming along. Speech therapy is amazing.’ I said we hadn’t done speech that whole summer, that we’d put it on hold so we could do hyperbarics. She said WOW!

“The idea behind hyperbaric oxygen therapy is to increase the carrying capacity of the blood with oxygen so more oxygen can be delivered to target organs that may not be receiving enough oxygen, including the brain” states Jerry Kartzinel, MD , Medical Director of the California Integrative Hyperbaric Center, the autism center in Irvine where the Owens conduct their hyperbaric therapy.

Kelsi’s behavior and issues improved. By age 4 Kelsi could sit at a restaurant color and eat a meal. Today she attends a typical school in Los Alamitos School District and is flourishing.

The Owen’s emphasize how crucial it is for parents to get involves in their children’s recovery progress early and to never give up hope. Melissa and Kelly reached out for each other’s support to keep pushing forward for their daughter’s sake. They also found other families with children affected by autism to share their story with and keep each other motivated on the autism journey. “When you are on the road to recovery you don’t stop, you continue, “Says Kelly. “We need to do whatever it takes now, while they are young, while the treatments are effective, while we can still make a difference. It is today that you have to make a difference. You don’t have five years, you don’t have six years. You have to do it today.”

This article was featured in the Orange County Register April, 2010