Highland News Leader

‘We call her our perfect girl’

Holly Wrobbel flies a plane during a special youth aviation event at Greenville Airport.
Holly Wrobbel flies a plane during a special youth aviation event at Greenville Airport. Courtesy image

At just 16 years old, Holland “Holly” Wrobbel has already flown a plane. She has met Miss America and has won a teen queen title, herself. She has earned gold medals, and is just as at home on the stage as the athletic field, having participated in plays at Highland High School.

Holly also has Down syndrome.

“She’s named after a poem called, ‘Welcome to Holland.’ It’s about finding out that you’re going to have a child that has different abilities and what that’s like,” said Tammy Wrobbel, Holly’s mother. “We have it in her room.”

The Wrobbel family is the perfect example of how love and patience can turn any situation into a blessing.

When Tammy and her husband, Duff, found out that Holly was going to be born with Down syndrome, it became a defining moment in their lives. Up until that point, their experience with people with Down syndrome was virtually nonexistent.

She brings silliness and humor into each day. Her peers adore her, and they all want to be her partner or work with her when given the opportunity.

Khourtney Lowder, life skills teacher at Highland High School

“We found out during the pregnancy that she had Down syndrome,” Tammy said. “I had a school friend who had Down syndrome, but I didn’t have a lot of experience with it.”

When Duff found out, he channeled his nervous energy into DIY projects.

“It helped me clear my head when I was stressed. The more sweat, the better,” Duff said. “Blisters are an added bonus. This required a lot of blisters to navigate through.”

But navigate they did.

Early therapy

As soon as Holly was brought home, therapy started.

“We had it all set up that she would have early intervention, immediately,” Tammy said.

Early intervention is a type of therapy that includes exercises and activities, which help with developmental delays that may be experienced by children with Down syndrome.

“We had therapists come into the house as soon as we brought her home, and they helped teach us new things until she was 3 years old,” Tammy said.

(It) makes me feel happy to do all these things. That’s good.

Holly Wrobbel, HHS sophomore

Tammy would take what she learned and begin a new career helping others in similar situations. Before Holly was born, Tammy was the manager of a financial aid office.

“Now I am a developmental therapist,” Tammy said. “I’ve been doing this for 16 years. I own a business and employ other therapists.”

Her business, Early Intervention Services Inc., is based in Highland but has clients all over the metro-east.

Quite the resume

Tammy knows first-hand how therapy can pay off. Holly’s list of accomplishments grows longer by the day.

The plane she flew, a 1972 Grumman AA-5, was during a special event in Greenville.

This was her fourth year participating in the Special Olympics. She carried the torch when it came through Highland, and she competes in rhythmic gymnastics, bocce and bowling. She has won nine gold medals and a silver.

“I won my gold medals,” Holly said. “I did the Hula Hoop and the Bocce. I felt proud.”

She has participated in musicals at Highland High School, including playing the role of an Oompa Loompa in Willy Wonka and a mother in the school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof.

She’s very affectionate and has a great memory. We call her our perfect girl.

Tammy Wrobbel, Holly’s mom

“I liked singing the Tradition song,” Holly said as she closed her eyes, smiled and started humming the tune as she sat at her kitchen table. “It was good.”

Tammy smiled and reached over to rub Holly’s hand while she hummed.

“Holly is a very loving girl. She’s also a typical 16-year-old girl at times. And she’s a daddy’s girl,” Tammy said. “She’s very affectionate and has a great memory. We call her our perfect girl.”

Bringing awareness

Holly is an inspiration to those around her.

“She brings silliness and humor into each day. Her peers adore her, and they all want to be her partner or work with her when given the opportunity,” said Khourtney Lowder, life skills teacher at HHS. “Holly always compliments others and tells them how pretty they are. It makes everyone’s day. She likes to go on community trips with the class, and she is a delight to be around.”

Holly’s example has also gotten noticed beyond her hometown.

In June, she was crowned the 2016 Teen Queen by Butterfly Dreams, a non-profit organization that provides events and pageants for people who are differently abled. Through Butterfly Dreams, she rode with Highland Mayor Joe Michaelis during the year’s homecoming parade.

October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and Holly also promotes advocacy and acceptance for individuals with Down syndrome.

“We do lots of awareness events,” her mother said. “She is very aware of her difficulties and when others treat her unfairly and with disrespect, it saddens her. This breaks my heart. One of my hopes is that we help her become an effective advocate.”

Holly was also recently nominated for a National Rise Award, which celebrates and recognizes individuals who are making a difference in their communities.

“(It) makes me feel happy to do all these things,” Holly said. “That’s good.”

It makes the people around her happy, too, though her accomplishments are only footnotes to the things in life that are truly important.

“I find that it helps to remind people what ‘unconditional’ love means,” her father said. “We love her for who she is, not what she does.”

“Holly has helped us slow down and enjoy the little things in life,” her mother added. “We’ve met a lot of awesome people because she has Down syndrome, and she totally changed my career. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

What Is Down Syndrome?

In every cell in the human body there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes. Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.

This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm — although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.

One in every 691 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common genetic condition. Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome and about 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year.

Source: National Down Syndrome Society

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