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SMU Alumna Elena Davis Shares Her Family’s Journey With Down Syndrome

A Q&A with the mom of three and dance fitness instructor

Eight years ago, Elena Davis welcomed her first child, Luke, who has Down syndrome, and life changed forever.

Since meeting at Southern Methodist University, Davis and her husband Peter, an internist and sports medicine physician, had carefully planned their future together. They imagined someday having a family, but they never dreamed Down syndrome would be in picture.

Once the initial shock subsided, Davis, now 44, sprang into action, researching resources and assimilating herself into Dallas’ Down syndrome community.

Before long, 6-year-old Lily and 4-year-old Liam came along, and the Lakewood mom found herself busier—and more fulfilled—than ever.

“He’s really opened my eyes up to what’s truly important in this world. I call him my little light.”

These days, Davis, an SMU law school alumna who briefly worked as a lobbyist in Austin, balances caring for her crew with caring for herself through her favorite pastime: teaching dance fitness.

“It’s a balancing act for any parent with multiple children,” says Davis. “It takes patience and time to figure it out, but it is what it is. Life in general is a balance. We’re all out there dealing with different challenges, just doing the best we can as mothers.”

DID YOU AND PETER ALWAYS WANT TO HAVE A FAMILY?

We always wanted children, but we had to agree on the number. We both come from families of four. I wanted four and he wanted two, so we agreed on three.

WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD THE WORDS “DOWN SYNDROME” AFTER LUKE WAS BORN?

 
I felt shocked, confused and alone. It was the fear of the unknown because I had no idea what Down syndrome actually meant. The not knowing is scary. But as we got to know him and love him, we realized this is not that big of a deal. As the years have gone by, we’ve had some challenges that are unique to Down syndrome. But for the most part, Luke is pretty much like any other little boy. His diagnosis put us on this amazing journey. He’s really opened my eyes up to what’s truly important in this world. I call him my little light.

HOW HAS HIS HEALTH BEEN?
Thankfully, he’s been relatively healthy. We were fortunate that he didn’t need any surgeries when he was first born. We never had to have heart surgery. The only surgery he’s really had is removing his tonsils and adenoids.

DID HAVING A FIRSTBORN WITH SPECIAL NEEDS MAKE YOU RECONSIDER HABING MORE CHILDREN?

It made me a little nervous throughout my other two pregnancies. Having a child with Down syndrome kind of opened my eyes to how many things can happen while you’re pregnant. The miracle of life really is a miracle. Everything has to go just so. We knew we wanted more children, but it made us a little more nervous. You’re always thinking about things that could happen.

WAS THERE A TURNING POINT WHEN YOU CAME TO PEACE WITH THE DIAGNOSIS?

I met someone who actually had a son with Down syndrome on the same day Luke was born, at the same hospital and through our same doctor. Our doctor put us in touch and to know another family that was going through the exact same thing as us was very comforting. That was when I realized it was all going to be OK.

HAVE YOU STAYED IN TOUCH?

Yes. We’re really good friends actually and our boys love each other. The boys actually went to preschool together at The Rise School. We attend the same church and get together as often as we can.

HOW ELSE HAVE YOU BUILT A SUPPORT SYSTEM? We got hooked into the Down Syndrome Guild of Dallas, which is a wonderful organization with tons of resources. Through them I’ve met other friends.

HOW ARE YOU A DIFFERENT PERSON SINCE HAVING LUKE?

Having any child is life-altering. Our lives did a complete 180, but I feel blessed to be a mother. Luke is a pretty amazing little guy. We have extra things like therapies, but overall he enjoys the same things as any other 8-year-old boy. My other two children just love and adore him. They don’t see the difference. The lessons they learn from Luke are going to carry on into adulthood. They’ve already learned so much acceptance and compassion. We’re all different. That’s what makes this world beautiful.

HOW DO YOU FIND BALANCE IN YOU OWN LIFE?

My mommy therapy is dancing. I grew up dancing and now I teach cardio dance classes at the Park Cities YMCA and with a group called Dallas Dance Fitness, which was actually started by another mother who has a child with Down syndrome. It’s my outlet. I can go in there feeling stressed about something, but I walk out with such joy. I get a dancer’s high.

And taking that time for yourself makes you a better mother… It definitely does. I think every mother needs a little time to herself. I know you want to pour yourself into your children because they’re your life, but you need to take care of yourself; otherwise, you’re not going to be the best mom you can be.

AND HOW DO YOU ALL LIKE TO SPEND TIME AS A FAMILY?

We’re pretty outdoorsy. We’ll bike down to White Rock Lake. We love the Dallas Arboretum. My kids love the Dallas Zoo, of course. All three children love music and dancing and singing. If we’re not outdoors we’re inside having a dance party. 

ANY YEARLY DESTINATIONS?

We try to go to a different beach every June. We always go to Southern California in early August. We usually take a ski trip in the winter. We’re heading to Deer Valley in January. There’s an adaptive ski school that we want Luke to be a part of.

IF YOU COULD OG BACK EIGHT YEARS, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY TO YOURSELF?

I would tell myself to not be scared because the future is going to be wonderful. It may not be the journey we were planning, but it’s an amazing journey nonetheless. We’ve learned so much from Luke in his short eight years of life.

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST THING HE’S TAUGHT YOU? What true love is like. He is love. He accepts everybody with love and compassion. He looks at the world through rose-colored glasses—and I think that’s a beautiful way to live.