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Choosing Joy:  A Story About Natalie Vanderbroek

by Jane Eppard

If Natalie wants to do something, there isn’t much that will stop her. You can guarantee she will be doing it with a smile on her face, always choosing joy.

There are many adjectives to describe Natalie: stubborn, inventive, determined, fiercely independent, full of joy, and a contagious smile that lights up a room.  She also wants to be a part of the action: she loves adventure, playing outside, swimming, playing with her baby dolls, and caring for bunnies. Natalie is a hard worker and rarely complains. She thanks God for making her just the way He intended. Natalie will tell you she is a special child of God. 

Natalie has Prader-Willi syndrome. This syndrome is caused by abnormalities on chromosome 15, resulting in an array of symptoms like low muscle tone, growth hormone deficiency, speech apraxia, and general dysfunction of the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus plays a crucial role in many functions in the body. The most heartbreaking of them being hunger and satiety. Natalie is not able to feel full and satisfied. Even with the daily challenges of Prader-Willi syndrome, it is Natalie’s determination and ability to choose joy that allows her to overcome and spread her happy spirit wherever she goes.  

Natalie engaged in an array of therapies to address the impact the syndrome has on her daily life. The cost began to tally up quickly, and there is only so much time and money to go around. At a young age, one of Natalie’s specialists encouraged them to explore hippotherapy. Natalie was just 16-months old when she started horse therapy and they saw the tangible results almost immediately.  She was able to walk just two months later!  Natalie was making steady physical progress and her core strength and balance continued to improve.  Just as important, this therapy was a perfect match for Natalie’s courageous spirit.

At six years old, Natalie’s adventures with horses continue. She is receiving therapy at Renew Therapeutic Riding Center. She is learning how to control her own horse and follow directions. She is also working on problem-solving, language processing, coordination, sequencing, and motor planning. Hippotherapy has allowed Natalie to thrive. She looks forward to her ride times and takes ownership of her horse and his needs. This therapy challenges Natalie physically and mentally, but it is so much fun she doesn’t even realize it is work!

Hippotherapy is not covered by insurance. The scholarship from Family Hope Foundation allows Natalie to continue riding, alleviating the financial strain and burden. The Vanderbroek are grateful for an organization that supports not only Natalie but so many other children in our community. 

If Natalie wants to do something, there isn’t much that will stop her. You can guarantee she will be doing it with a smile on her face, always choosing joy.