OAK BROOK – Hope Jendreas flaps her hands in the water, splashing it up to her curly orange hair, now a dampened amber.
Jendreas is held up by a volunteer, who hugs Jendreas from behind so she can move her arms and legs in the water. She can’t do that anywhere else.
Jendreas, 8, lives with hydrocephalus, epilepsy and the effects of several brain injuries. She uses a wheelchair and needs assistance for everything she does.
Once a month, Jendreas and other children with brain-related disabilities get to spend an hour-and-a-half playing in the pool at the Hyatt Lodge in Oakbrook, splashing around just like any kid would. They’re joined by volunteers from Miracles in Progress, a Westchester-based nonprofit that provides treatment and resources for people affected by brain injuries or disabilities. One of its programs is Pool Pals, during which volunteers swim around with the children while their parents enjoy a rare chance to relax and socialize.
As Dottie Jendreas watches from the side of the pool, Jeff Jendreas stands in the pool across from his daughter, mirroring the smile on her face.
“She sometimes will see the water and will start getting all excited,” said Dottie Jendreas, Hope’s stepmom.
Hope cannot communicate verbally, but she receives speech therapy and can make sounds. She’s good at reaching or using her eyes to signal what she wants, Dottie Jendreas said.
The buoyancy of the water frees Hope to move around in ways she can’t during her regular physical or occupational therapy sessions. Before she moved to La Grange Highlands with her dad, Hope received regular aquatherapy. But now it’s not a part of her regular treatment, which makes Pool Pals Fridays a big deal.
“After moving like this, for the next three days, she’ll be a lot more vocal with her sounds because all the patterning that gets going with the muscles and the legs going, it starts to trigger in the brain,” Dottie Jendreas said.
Aquatherapy sessions can cost around $200, said Susan Watson, Miracles in Progress executive director. Through private donations and fundraisers, the organization can offer all its programs at no cost.
Many of the organization’s volunteers are students, and they learn that, despite living with disabilities, the kids are just like their siblings, Jeff Jendreas said.
“When you see someone with a disability or a wheelchair, you kind of want to not ignore, but [you wonder], do you say hello? Do they talk? Do they respond?” said Judy Saraceno-Swenson, one of Miracles’ regular volunteers. “Now I know if they don’t say hello, its OK. If they can’t reach my hand, I go touch their hand.”
After swimming, Hope Jendreas goes home tired. The next day she wakes up babbling and full of energy, Dottie Jendreas said, like when she’s in the water.
“Her legs just go like crazy,” Dottie Jendreas said. “And they don’t do that normally. They’re just kicking the whole time.”