Red shoes raise awareness for those trying to kick the consequences of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome
Breeze Street Park was filled with laughter as a strapping young man lifted tiny toddler high into his arms.
“Being an uncle is hard work, but it’s fun because I get to spend a lot of time with my nephews,” said 16-year-old Jefferson Piatt of his nephew, Carter.
The two boys smiled at each other, shared a quiet conversation, and then, were off and running again through the sunlight-dappled grass.
“He’s so good with small children,” said Valerie Piatt about her adopted son Jefferson. “It’s because, in many ways, he’s still on their level.”
Jefferson is a junior at Moffat County High School and is a varsity athlete who has lettered in football, baseball and wrestling.
He is also a young man coming to terms with a permanent organic brain injury — Fetal Alcohol Syndrome —caused when he was exposed to alcohol in the womb.
The drugs and alcohol use by Jefferson’s biological mother affect him and older sister Jazzmine Piatt.
Valerie adopted the siblings when they were babies.
“One of the things Jefferson has been going through is anger. He’s asking ‘why, how could my mom do this to me?’ And he’s trying to deal with that turmoil to bring closure and acceptance that his mother had an addiction,” Valerie said.
Adding to the struggle is the challenge of being understood when his disability isn’t outwardly apparent.
“Cognitively he is about half of his chronological age,” Valerie said as she explained that memory gaps and the propensity to confabulate — to confuse reality with fabrication — are symptoms of a disorder that, while 100 percent preventable, is without a cure.
No matter how hard and fast her son runs on the playing field Valerie frequently overhears remarks about how slow he is as a learner. She recalls hearing a label, that she’d rather not repeat, whispered in the stands.
“There goes that ‘R’ word, they say and in a tone that suggests if only I were a better parent he would be a smarter kid,” she said.
Feeling misunderstood and unsupported, the pair have decided to tell their story to help raise awareness for their family, and others in the community that might be struggling with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
“I think Jefferson would be thrilled if no other kid was born with this disorder,” Valerie said. “It’s really hard. It’s a really hard life.”
September is designated as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Awareness Month and Sept. 9 is international “Red Shoes Rock.” People across the globe will sport red shoes to kick the stigma and stop Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
The exact number of people in the United States who are affected by the syndrome is unknown, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between 2 to 5 children in every 100 may exhibit symptoms on the spectrum.
Valerie will be wearing her red shoes on Saturday in recognition of her son’s struggles.
Jefferson has a pair of grey shoes with red stitching that will go better with the Bulldog blue he’ll be wearing as he travels with the football team to Delta.
They also hope the color will remind mothers of the consequences of drinking when pregnant.
“We need to convince mothers not to drink even a single drop of alcohol when pregnant,” Valerie said.
She would also like to see increased support available in Colorado, especially Craig, for people already living with the syndrome and those that love them.
Jefferson has a simple, but powerful message of his own to share — “Drinking when you are pregnant is a very bad idea.”