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How a baby with special needs improved the art on a hospital’s walls

How a baby with special needs improved the art on a hospital’s walls

By Intermountain Healthcare

Sep 23, 2019

Updated Nov 17, 2023

5 min read

Baby with special needs

When Dan Mangelson and his wife, Annie, walked the halls at American Fork Hospital before the birth of their daughter Lydia, they looked at the photos on the walls of newborn babies and wondered what their own child would look like. When their daughter was born later that night, they learned she had Down syndrome. 

When Dan and Annie walked the same halls with Lydia in the coming days, they looked at the photos again and realized their daughter wasn’t represented. There were no photos of special-needs babies, no photos of NICU babies with monitor leads or tubes. 

Dan ran into Jason Wilson, American Fork Hospital administrator, one day while Lydia was in the NICU. As they talked about the Mangelson’s new baby, Dan mentioned that there were no photos of any baby with special needs on the walls of the Labor and Delivery Unit and their daughter was one of so many who weren’t represented on those walls. 

Jason had recently received an email from a mother who’d had a baby at the hospital, who also said she wished there were pictures of a baby with special needs on the walls. Jason responded by asking Dan and Annie if they could photograph Lydia to be featured on the walls of the hospital. 

“It’s hard to articulate what that moment and offer meant to us,” Annie says. “It meant our feelings were validated. It meant that even though it seemed like it, we weren’t alone. Another family out there had walked this path before, and they were reaching out to us in love. Most importantly, it meant our daughter mattered. Her life was worth celebrating, too. And even being born with a disability, at just six days old she was stepping up, making a difference, and changing the world for the better.”

Dan and Annie say they’re grateful for all the support and care they received from the caregivers at American Fork Hospital, which helped them through a very difficult time.
“Once the air cleared and ‘Down syndrome’ no longer felt like a taboo term, we received tremendous support and caring, both clinically and emotionally, from the nurses and doctors,” Dan says. “Everyone was so kind.” 

After the photos were printed and framed, Dan and his family visited the hospital to view the photos with Lydia. They were even able to reconnect with the caregivers who were there when Annie was born. 

While he was at the hospital to see the new photos, Dan shared some advice for caregivers who are trying to help families who face a situation like his family faced. 

He said, “Perhaps caregivers don’t want to ‘ruin’ the happy moment of the delivery with earth-shattering news, especially if the parents may not already suspect. For us, we immediately recognized that Lydia most likely had Down syndrome. I think in the moment, a simple but confident comment that, first, acknowledged the concern, and second, recognized the beautiful baby and life that just began would have been helpful and reassuring. I don’t know what the best approach is in that situation, but I do know that silence is probably not it.”