PS parents, Joe and Karmel Garcia (Augie ‘30) were given a Down Syndrome diagnosis for their daughter, Zoe, at her 20 week ultrasound. At the time, the diagnosis felt unbearably heavy and they weren’t sure what it meant for her family and for Zoe’s future. Two months after Zoe was born, the signs of heart failure started showing up. Doctors hoped they could change up her medications to allow her to gain weight while at home, however, she ended up going into cardiogenic shock and was scheduled for emergency heart surgery. “It was a very overwhelming and emotionally exhausting time for our family,” said Karmel. “In true Zoe fashion she rocked her surgery and she left the hospital a few weeks later stronger and more determined than ever before.”
Zoe began at-home early intervention therapy, and during her first appointment, Karmel realized how overwhelming it all was becoming. “I was trying hard to take every note and understand every activity she was doing with Zoe. The therapist ended the session with a list of a few therapy tools I should order that would be helpful. For some reason that list pushed me to my emotional breaking point.” said Karmel. “It was something as simple as a list of items, but that list felt like a huge mountain to cross over and the thought of physically adding something to my plate felt impossible.”
With the help of her Down Syndrome village, Karmel has found her lifeline when the world has felt heavy and overwhelming. It was with this support that she decided to create a nonprofit organization called Zoe’s Toolbox as a resource for other parents of children who receive Down Syndrome diagnoses. Zoe's Toolbox seek to provide families with a box of time saving tools during a period of learning and researching a new Down Syndrome diagnosis to relieve the stress of purchasing these tools. All boxes are provided free of charge and include PT, OT, feeding and speech tools, as well as sensory tools that are geared towards children 6 months- 2 years of age, and are most commonly used for children with Down Syndrome. “These tools will empower parents to work on their child’s developmental growth in between scheduled therapy sessions,” said Karmel. “Every baby born with Down syndrome will have their own unique experiences and abilities. Some will have many medical procedures in their first year, and some will be born never spending a day in the hospital. For any diagnosis, the first year is the hardest to navigate, and we are here to be a box of sunshine to those families.” To date, Zoe’s Toolbox has sent out 146 boxes to families and currently has 680+ families on the waitlist.
We are honored to share Karmel's work behind Zoe's Toolbox, especially as October marks National Down Syndrome Awareness Month. Her story of modeling kindness and cultivating compassion for others is an inspiration.