Brinley Hild celebrated her 2nd birthday in February 2019.
When you first meet two-year-old Brinley Hild, you notice her heart-warming smile, captivating blue eyes and cute little pigtails. On second glance, you notice there’s something unique about her.
In 2017, what was to be a routine 20-week ultrasound to identify an unborn child’s gender turned into shock. “The doctor wasn’t really saying anything,” said Brinley’s mom, Andrea Hild. “Then after about 45 minutes of not speaking to us, she turned the machine off and said, ‘We have to talk.’”
The Hilds’ daughter would be born with Amelia, a rare disorder that affects 4 out of every 10,000 babies. In the Hilds’ case, their daughter would be born without arms. With the help of their doctor and advice from the school where Andrea worked as a teacher, the family started the process of enrolling their yet unborn daughter into the Arizona Early Intervention Program (AzEIP).
Thanks to AzEIP services and supports, the Hild family is able to help their daughter adapt to her own special way of doing things. AzEIP support coordinators and case workers helped the Hilds apply for other services, too, such as medical coverage through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS). “I wouldn’t know how to get any of this stuff on my own,” said Hild. “I’m so thankful that [Brinley] has AHCCCS.”
Two years later, she said, “I don’t really feel like our life is that much different than any other parent who has a little one. We just do everything slightly differently.”
Andrea, Kyle and Brinley Hild at home.
Like most other two-year-olds, Brinley uses a fork and spoon to eat her meals. She drinks from a sippy cup and can grasp a paint brush, pencil or crayon. The difference is, that instead of hands, she uses her feet. “She eats with her feet, plays with her feet, she even undresses herself with her feet,” explained Hild. She can feed her baby doll and wrap the doll in a blanket. She even learned a little sign language using her feet.
Through networking, the Hilds met Barbie, a woman who lost her arms at age two due to an accident. A mentor and friend, Barbie worked with the family, demonstrating how she handles everyday tasks. “She came to one of the [physical therapy] sessions and showed us how she picks things up with her neck,” said Hild. “She left later that day [and] we were watching Brinley [mimic Barbie by] picking her toys up with her neck. And we just thought it was the coolest thing that she got that. As a parent--and this is our first child--we’re kind of learning along, too. I always tell everybody, we don’t teach Brinley. Brinley’s been teaching us how to adapt to what she needs. She’s been really pretty cool to watch.”
A physical therapist makes weekly visits. An occupational therapist visits once a month, as does a Developmental Special Instructionist (DSI) who comes to help Brinley work on her play skills. Brinley just started speech services at the beginning of 2019. Although she has a good vocabulary for a two-year-old – about 40 words – “she gets really frustrated really fast,” said Hild. “A child with arms can go show you what they want. If it’s something close, she can go with her foot and kick it but if [not], she gets really upset [when she cannot] express what she wants.”
The AzEIP Individualized Family Service Plan set a goal of building Brinley’s core strength to help her sit up. “Now our newest goals that we made at our last review is learning how to walk and using more words to express her wants.”
Because her right leg is almost three inches shorter than the left, Brinley now has a prosthetic leg to even out her stance and will be using a gait trainer to help her learn to walk. “She needs something around her core so she doesn’t fall forward.” Brinkley was also born with her right hip out of the socket. “Because of that, we’ve got to be extra careful taking those first steps.”
Waving “hi” with her foot.
According to Hild, Brinley has no limits. “Just to see what she’s done in two years is pretty amazing. And she’s still hitting her [child development] milestones. She’s a normal two-year-old; she simply doesn’t have arms.”
Hild said of the AzEIP staff, “I love the consistency of the visits. I know when they’re coming. They’re always on time; they’re never late, which I love.” As a working mom, Hild appreciates the scheduling flexibility, too. “[AzEIP] staff are so willing to come any time of the day for me. They are so professional. I really can’t express that enough.”
In a recent email to AzEIP Support Coordinator, Stephanie Davis, Hild said, “Our family absolutely loves our [physical therapist] Keyla, [occupational therapist] Cher, and DSI Brandy. They have all truly become part of our family. Due to their work, our daughter has [gone] from just scooting around our house to being able to stand, walk along the couch, and has strengthened her muscles tremendously. She continues to amaze us each day. It is because of the great services offered that our child will continue to grow, learn, and develop at the right pace as her peers.”
By Lyn Riley