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updated: 10/15/2012 11:27 AM

Adult Down syndrome center a passion, and 'a blessing'

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  • Dr. Brian Chicoine, Medical Director of Advocate Lutheran General Hospitals Adult Down Syndrome Center, right, greets patients Paul Franklin, left, and Jill Sowins, center, during the open house.

       Dr. Brian Chicoine, Medical Director of Advocate Lutheran General Hospitals Adult Down Syndrome Center, right, greets patients Paul Franklin, left, and Jill Sowins, center, during the open house.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Brian J. Liedlich, vice president of development, Advocate Charitable Foundation, left, visits with Dr. Brian Chicoine.

       Brian J. Liedlich, vice president of development, Advocate Charitable Foundation, left, visits with Dr. Brian Chicoine.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 

Dr. Brian Chicoine of Arlington Heights was among the more than 10,000 runners who ran the Chicago Marathon for charity. But he was the only one to run it for the Adult Down Syndrome Center in Park Ridge.

It was the sixth time Chicoine ran the marathon for the center and over the years he has raised more than $300,000 for its programs. This year alone, he raised $20,000 and money continues to come in.

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The Adult Down Syndrome Center is the only one of its kind in the Midwest and is a program offered by Advocate Lutheran General Hospital and its medical group.

Last week, Chicoine and his staff hosted an open house at their newly completed facility, located just west of the hospital.

While the facility has been open since late April, they waited until October, known nationally as Down syndrome awareness month, to open its doors to the public.

What started 20 years ago with Chicoine seeing patients two mornings a week has evolved into a full time center that offers a holistic approach to meeting the medical and psychosocial needs of its clients.

Since its inception, more than 5,000 patients have been served and it now treats 2,000 individuals per year.

"It's a passion of Brian's," says Anthony Armada, president of Lutheran General Hospital, "and we consider it a blessing to carry out what he's created."

Chicoine is so passionate about the center that he and Dr. Dennis McGuire, director of psychosocial services, were invited to address the United Nations in March, on International Down Syndrome Day.

"We spoke about what improved health care can do for people with disabilities," Chicoine said. "And we described all the new and exciting things that people with Down syndrome are doing."

Their speech underscored their mission at the center in Park Ridge, that good health gives people the capability to do more things and leads to a better quality of life.

The open house drew hospital employees -- who had donated $110,000 in an associate donor campaign for the center -- as well as patients and their families, private donors and local politicians.

Among the guests were Christine Maxwell, 35, and her parents, Joe and Diane, of South Barrington.

Christine is a global messenger for Special Olympics and she often speaks to large audiences. But at the open house, she was brief: "Dr. Chicoine is my favorite doctor."

Another guest was Billy Fabbri, 38, of Morton Grove, whom Chicoine refers to as his "running buddy." Several years ago, Billy asked his doctor if he would run a turkey trot with him, and Chicoine accepted.

His invitation drew Chicoine back into running and it eventually extended into marathon running. But it also planted a seed: Chicoine wondered how he could encourage more of his patients to get out and run with him.

Some of the new amenities at the center will help him do that, including a large community room in the lower level, where he and his staff plan to offer educational sessions, fitness and nutrition classes and other social outlets.

"It's a place where we can foster a healthy lifestyle for our patients," says Merrily Smith, one of two patient advocates on staff and the mother of an adult son with Down syndrome.

The building itself looks much like a house, and that was intentional, Smith adds, so as not to frighten its patients.

"This center is full of compassion and love," Armada added, "for those individuals we've been caring for, for years."

To find out more about the center, visit: www.advocatehealth.com.

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