Thursday, July 31, 2008

'Like going to Disney World every Saturday'

Horse-riding program has healing effects on Waukegan boys coping with disorders

July 31, 2008


Despite suffering from numerous health crises, two Waukegan boys have found solace in the unlikely therapy of horseback riding.

For Evan Dustan, 9, and his 2½-year-old brother Ian, life hasn't been such an easy ride.

At age 3, Evan was discovered to have autism, and just two weeks ago he was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia.

His brother, meanwhile, has suffered from an undiagnosed digestion problem that prohibits his stomach from processing any food. He has been connected to feeding tubes since shortly after he was born.

Both boys have been going through therapeutic horseback riding sessions at the Midwest Therapeutic Riding Program in Racine, Wis. since they were toddlers.

"It's a place where kids don't have disabilities and kids are kids," said the boys' mother, Jamie. "It's the best therapy we've ever given them. Ian said his first word on a horse."

For the family, who lives in Waukegan, Evan's recent diagnosis has been a huge blow.

"We were not even prepared," Jamie said. "We were so ignorant, we had no concept of what we were looking at."

Only a day after Evan was diagnosed, Jamie and her husband Chris took the boys up to Milwaukee to begin Evan's treatment.

"Evan's had a really rough beginning," Jamie said. "He had a seizure disorder that has resurfaced since undergoing treatment."

Playing supermom to her children, Jamie admits Evan's latest developments have been a struggle.

"Having a second child already medically fragile, this complicates things a bit," she said.

To ease their stay in Milwaukee, the family has moved into a suite at a Ronald McDonald house there and will likely stay until January while Evan goes through chemotherapy.

With all the recent tribulations, it's not surprising Evan is looking forward to getting back on a horse, although, "it's going to be a little while," said Jamie.

"The program is really a place where kids' dreams come true," she said. "It's been like going to Disney World every Saturday. It's been life-changing for the entire family."

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