Hometown: 
Wapello, IA

For a long time, Bill and Barb Dunham didn’t think they’d ever have children. So when they learned they were expecting a baby girl, Emeline, in 2005, they were ecstatic.

“Having been told that we wouldn’t be able to have children and trying for five years and going through infertility…getting pregnant and having her was a blessing, a miracle, a joy. That’s what she has continued to be,” says Barb.

Barb’s first ultrasound indicated that Emeline may have Down syndrome. The Dunhams were referred to University of Iowa Children’s Hospital, where more advanced ultrasounds confirmed the diagnosis.

“It affects people differently when they find out things like your daughter’s going to have Down syndrome,” says Bill. “But for me, it actually was not a big issue because I felt blessed we were going to have a child.”

Emeline was also born with two heart defects. She spent a week in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“Neither one required surgery, which was a big deal because over 50 percent of kids with Downs have heart defects that require open heart surgery,” says Barb. “We were blessed and fortunate that wasn’t our situation.”

Since then, Emeline has faced a number of health challenges. When she was almost 3 years old, she had a seizure. After testing, Emeline was diagnosed with hypoparathyroidism—a condition in which the body doesn’t make enough of a hormone that regulates the calcium and phosphorus in the bones and blood.

Six months later, Emeline became very sick. She was vomiting and sleeping all day, so her parents took her to UI Children’s Hospital.

“She was admitted right to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. I was alone with her and the doctor said, ‘If you have family that needs to see her, you better call them now,’” says Barb.

Emeline was diagnosed with Addison’s disease, a disorder in which the adrenal glands don’t produce enough hormones. Left untreated, the disease can be life-threatening. She now takes medication to keep the disorder under control.

Three years later, Emeline was diagnosed with stage three kidney disease. She has also been diagnosed with gastrointestinal conditions and had lung problems that have twice required her to be on prolonged oxygen therapy.

The Dunhams are thankful to Emeline’s care team, which has worked together to keep her healthy.

“The doctors walk into the room and it’s hugs all around,” says Barb. “It’s not just ‘You take care of my kid.’ It’s ‘You care for my kid.’ There’s a difference.”

Emeline, now 10, is known for her hugs and loving nature. She enjoys helping with the family’s animals, cooking with her mother, and going on “daddy-daughter dates.”

“I want to be around her as much as possible because she makes me a better person,” says Bill.

“It has been work and everything has been delayed, but Emeline walks. Emeline talks. Emeline has plans and heaven help anyone who thinks they are going to stop her from achieving them,” adds Barb. “She has big dreams. It might take her longer than her peers to do them, but she’s going to do them.”