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Ormond Beach Observer Monday, Aug. 19, 2013 5 years ago

Local opens center for medically complex children, in memory of son

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Christine Belz opened Loads of Smiles in May, in dedication to her son, Zachary, who died in 2008, following a double lung surgery.

BY WAYNE GRANT | STAFF WRITER

It was hard for the Belz, an Ormond Beach couple, to get their son Zachary, who was born with cystic fibrosis in 1998, to come out of the bedroom.

Zachary had been on a ventilator for the first two and a half years of his life. But now that he was free of the machine, his parents wanted him to explore the house. When they took him out of his room, though, he would tense up and have trouble breathing.

One day, his mother, Christine, took him into the laundry room, and he seemed to be soothed. The Belz figured out that the hum of the washing machine took the place of the ventilator and monitor that Zachary had lived with throughout most of his young life.

After a while, Zachary associated Tide detergent, his mother’s brand, with the feeling of security. He would carry an empty bottle around the house and seemed comforted.

Belz contacted the Proctor and Gamble Corporation and they were so taken by the story, she said, that they sent T-shirts and packages of Tide products to them. They even made Zachary an employee of the month and designed a bottle with his name on it.

After double lung surgery, Zachary died in 2008. For the funeral, Belz designed T-Shirts for everyone to wear that were similar to the Tide’s logo “Loads of Hope,” that was used for the company’s relief help after Hurricane Katrina.

Centered on the shirt was Zachary’s picture, and the logo read “Loads of Smiles.”

That’s where the name for the day-care center Belz opened in May, at 917 Beville Road, in South Daytona, came from. The center is for medically complex children.

When Belz was caring for Zachary, she discovered that center for children like Zach, Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care facilities, did exist, but not nearby. So she studied to become a nurse with the goal of opening one herself, to help families in similar situations.

She knew that a child needed to be with other children in order to learn to socialize. She also wanted to help the parents who had to stay home or hire in-home care.

“What a great legacy for this child,” Belz said. “To help these families and see children develop, to watch them learn to walk and grow, it’s an amazing feeling."

Loads of Smiles is for children from birth to 21 years of age. It features nursing care, physical therapy, developmental stimulation, occupational therapy and speech therapy. A certified teacher also visits the center to provide education for the children.

The children at Loads of Smiles do everything kids do at regular centers, according to Christine’s sister Sandra Cornelius, who works as administrator.

“We dance, sing, read, play,” she said, adding that there has never been a case yet of a child wanting to go home. “They love it here. The parents feel good that the children enjoy it so much. We treat them like they are our own.”

Each room is also painted a different color.

“We wanted it to be kid-friendly and not institutional,” Cornelius said.

Licensed for 35 children, there are currently 19 at the facility.

“We’ve grown very quickly,” Cornelius said. “A mother the other day was crying; she said she wished she knew about us before.”

A child must be prescribed to attend the school by a physician. Cornelius said all of the current children are funded by Medicare, except one that receives insurance payments.

“I love it,” Cornelius said. “It’s so rewarding. ... It’s like watching your own babies.”

The facility is staffed by registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and certified nursing assistants. There is one staff member for every three children. This type of care center is licensed by the Agency for Health Care Administration and operates under a physician’s supervision.

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