November 1, 2014
DELAND — Kristin Burrhus is 49 but only a few years removed from living with her parents.
Her journey, though, has been nothing short of miraculous.
“I’m independent. I do things on my own. I do my own chores,” she said during a recent interview at her new home, Duvall Home’s Gatlin Cottage north of DeLand.
Born with Down syndrome in an era when doctors frequently recommended institutionalization, she grew up with her family in Massachusetts, and functioned well enough to work at several places, including Walgreen’s and Burger King. Her family moved to Florida, and she took painting classes at the Gateway Center for the Arts in DeBary, producing work with enough depth to gain attention and even a few sales.
But then she fell ill several years ago, suffering two strokes, many seizures and was near enough to death that hospice was caring for her.
Steven DeVane was working as a hospice chaplain when he met Burrhus and said he sensed her “vibrant spirit.”
Burrhus’ family looked at options for her care and decided to have her moved to the Duvall Home cottage.
She remained in a wheelchair.
“It took a long time, several years, to get well. After that, I couldn’t walk at all. I didn’t have the strength in me,” she said.
But little by little, she made progress, and her two therapists taught her how to walk again. She graduated to a walker and now uses only a cane to help her get around.
She was even, for a time, well enough to return to work at one of Duvall Home’s thrift stores.
She found her move a big change.
“At first, I was kind of shy. I had never felt that way before,” she said. “But I got over it.”
She handles chores, include making breakfast, assisting the cottage’s “house mothers” with meals and keeping her room clean. Valerie Dawson, a Duvall staff member, says Burrhus helps with some of the administrative tasks.
“I would look at her as a leader,” Dawson said. “She’s a helper, a go-getter.”
She attends Duvall’s day-training program most days. That’s where DeVane, who had recently been installed as Duvall’s CEO, met Burrhus once again.
“Our eyes met and we said in unison: ‘Do you remember me?’” DeVane said in a video Duvall Home made about her. “Miracles happen and in this case, Duvall Home is part of the miracle.”
Read “One resident’s road to recovery, independence” featured by the Daytona Beach News Journal!