A Life Without Limits

Zena’s Story

With her spunky personality, contagious smile and determined spirit, 9-year-old Zena has proven to be “one-of-a-kind” in many ways.

“By the time she was three months old, I could tell something was different about Zena,” said her mom, Kayla. “She wasn’t meeting developmental milestones like holding her head up and making eye contact. After months of testing, doctors discovered that Zena has three microdeletions [missing pieces] in her chromosomes. Medical geneticists at Mayo Clinic told us they don’t know of anyone like Zena in the world.”

Zena’s unique diagnosis made it impossible for her family to know what her future held. At age 2, she began occupational, physical and speech therapies at ChildServe, and her mom hoped for some guidance.

“I was worried about who would be working with Zena and didn’t know what we would do if they couldn’t help us,” said Kayla. “Now, her ChildServe therapists have become family to us. From the beginning, we were flying blind when it came to Zena, but we’ve partnered together to discover what works for her. She keeps surprising me with how much she can accomplish.”

When Zena began services at ChildServe, she was unable to sit up, walk, communicate, hold objects, make eye contact, and she would not allow anyone to touch her hands.

“I didn’t know what to expect out of Zena’s work in therapy; I was just hoping for small things,” said Kayla. “I wanted my daughter to look at me when I said her name and let me touch her hands. I never imagined we would be where we are today.”

Thanks to her work in speech therapy, Zena can use images of words and objects to communicate. Today, Zena is learning to use a communication device that allows her to tap buttons to play the sounds of words she’d like to say.

With the help of her occupational therapist, Zena no longer struggles with her hands being touched, which has enabled her to work on many new skills in occupational, speech and physical therapies. Today she can use her hands to feed herself with utensils, pick up toys and practice brushing her teeth independently.

After beginning physical therapy with no ability to walk, stand or even sit upright, Zena can now stand, walk and use stairs with support. Zena knows how to fall safely without hitting her head, and she can ride a tricycle, pedaling all by herself! Zena and her physical therapist, Traci Sonner, have been working together for six years.

“One of the biggest challenges that Zena has overcome is learning to walk with assistance,” said Traci. “After working extremely hard to grip the handles of the walking devices, she finally took off one day and hasn’t looked back. She is now able to walk across different terrains with her device and can even go up and down small curbs with it.”

Though Zena’s “one-of-a-kind” diagnosis came with uncertainty, her unique, fighting spirit continues to drive her forward to a new kind of uncertainty – one without limits.

“I don’t ever know what to expect from Zena anymore,” said Kayla. “What I used to think was impossible has become our new normal. She is becoming more independent than I ever anticipated. ChildServe has given her a life that we only could have dreamed of years ago.”


ChildServe improves the health and well-being of more than 5,600 children each year through specialized clinical, home, and community-based programs and services. We serve children with developmental delays, disabilities, injuries, and other special healthcare needs.

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