The good doctor

On Down Syndrome Awareness Month and the retirement of a beloved Paradise pediatrician

Each October, during Down Syndrome Awareness Month, I consider writing a long essay about life with my young son, Henry, who was born with that genetic disorder, a third copy of the 21st chromosome. But each year, I overthink what I’d want to impart to readers, and then I struggle with the prospect of sharing such intimate information with 116,000 people, mostly strangers.

Someday, I may write a cover essay—heck, maybe even a book—but what prompted me to write something now is the retirement of Samuel Daniyan, Henry’s pediatrician at Paradise Medical Group Pediatrics.

My husband and I met Dr. Daniyan the day after Henry was born. I hadn’t already lined up a pediatrician, like most expecting parents do, because my pregnancy was complex and resulted in me skipping a lot of the traditional stuff—like birthing classes. It was a difficult time—physically, because I was in pain and having intermittent contractions, and emotionally, because I didn’t know whether I’d end up with a live baby.

On top of that, my husband and I knew there was a possibility he had Down syndrome. Early in the pregnancy, an ultrasound revealed a few “markers”—including his femurs measuring slightly short—that are associated with a higher incidence of Down syndrome, along with some other conditions.

To know for certain, I could have had an amniocentesis, a diagnostic procedure in which a needle is used to pull genetic material out of the womb, but because of the slight increased risk of early labor, and the fact that I was already having contractions, I decided against it. That meant we wouldn’t know for sure until after Henry arrived.

Thing is, when that day came just over three weeks prior to his due date, it wasn’t entirely obvious. Henry was a very tiny, cute little squishface—my word—who looked a lot like other preterm babies. I remember asking the nurses if he was healthy—their response was in the affirmative. Henry had a good Apgar score (an evaluation made by medical personnel to assess a newborn’s health), they said.

But does he have Down syndrome? I remember asking timidly.

They couldn’t tell, so a pediatrician was summoned. The first one who came to the room bypassed me and my husband, though he’d never met us, and started inspecting Henry like some kind of specimen. When he finished, he declared that while Henry didn’t have most of the classic signs, “his eyes look a little downsy.”

That was pretty much the extent of his interaction with us. His terrible bedside manner and casual observance that our newborn might have a major developmental disability knocked him off the short list of potential pediatricians.

The next day, though, Dr. Daniyan was on-call. He walked in and greeted us warmly, introduced himself and asked in his warm Nigerian accent to hold Henry. When he picked him up, he smiled and laughed at our “little man,” lifting the uneasy mood. After sharing our concerns about Down syndrome, he took a closer look, explaining to us each of the things he was checking. Henry didn’t have the single crease on the palm, for example. His hand looked just like mine.

Dr. Daniyan said we’d have to test his blood to know for certain, but that it didn’t seem likely given his appearance. Two agonizingly long weeks later, we sat down with him for the results. I’ll never forget the gentle way in which he broke the news. What he said ended with the fact that Henry was “still the same person you brought home from the hospital.”

Indeed, he is—and we love him dearly. And we’re thankful he’s had such a caring physician for his first six years. I’m certain we’re not the only ones who’ll miss the beloved Dr. Daniyan.