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A Family’s Journey with Autism, Helped By The Long Beach Stramski Center And Steel Magnolias

When Luke was first diagnosed with a severe form of autism, his parents were completely unsure of what to do. When they were referred to the Stramski Center, they immediately felt as though they had hit the jackpot.

By John Grossi

One of the most active non-profits in Long Beach is called Steel Magnolias. They throw a variety of events, fundraisers, service days and more, all in the name of raising funds for their

primary recipient, the Stramski Center, part of Miller Children’s and Women’s Hospital through

Memorial Care in Long Beach.

To honor Steel Magnolias is to honor the Stramski Center. And that means talking to one of their many success stories. The Stramski Children’s Developmental Center, under the direction of Medical Director Dr. Gary Feldman, is a special needs center that helps children and families deal with conditions such as autism, cleft lip and palate, birth defects, learning problems, and other developmental delays.

I set up a phone call with the mom (Bandol) of patient Luke.

“I’m so ready to brag about the Stramski Center—I’ve been waiting for this!” Bandol exclaimed. “I am SO glad to talk to you, John!”

Her gratitude and awe at what The Stramski Center, and particularly Dr. Feldman, has done for Luke, herself, and her husband is palpable.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but from the first moment we walked in, we were impressed. The doctor, the office staff, we felt supported right away. It’s been about 6 years and I still get choked up talking about it. My husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Oh my God, did we just hit a jackpot?’ It’s that kind of feeling. I’m getting all emotional again.”

Bandol and her husband were married 15 years before they decided to have a baby. She remembers when Luke was just one year old (pictured) and they were so happy and thankful for their perfect, energetic, smiling, and healthy child. It wasn’t until Luke was 2 years old that her husband started to notice signs of regression. Bandol at first was in denial, but they eventually took him to a doctor where Luke was diagnosed with a severe form of autism. The couple had no idea what to do. Thankfully, they were referred to the Stramski Center.

“You don’t know how often I bother him [Dr. Feldman]! Sometimes the issue gets resolved in

2-3 days, sometimes the very same day. But there’s always something (that arises), being the parent of an autistic kid.”

Bandol laughs at how many different sides these doctors have seen of her and her husband

over the years.

“My husband and I are best friends—we’ve known each other 30 years now, married for 26.

Each of us tries to impress the doctor about who’s the best,” she laughs. “Sometimes we disagree in front of the doctor. We each make our case about what is best for Luke and then he has to tell us which one is right. I think we’ve brought that doctor a lot of comic relief!”

Luke, now 11 years old, attends a local elementary school. Bandol is full of thanks for the many people in this community who treat her family well as they navigate raising their son, including

teachers and staff in the Long Beach Unified School District.

As far as the Stramski Center goes, Bandol is excited to tell anyone and everyone about them. “Having this center is such a relief and support for us,” she sums up.

Steel Magnolias is an all-volunteer organization whose main recipient is the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center at Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach that has been dedicated to children and families since 1975. For over 20 years, members of Steel

Magnolias have actively engaged the community to raise funds so the Stramski Center can continue to help these children and their families. We host a variety of fundraising events including our signature event gala, golf tournament, and other imaginative gatherings. Being a volunteer organization without bricks and mortar offices, enables us to give more money back to services for local children with developmental delays or disabilities. The center helps children and families deal with conditions such as autism, cleft lip and palate, birth defects, learning problems, and other developmental delays. The center also has clinics specializing in sleep disorders and international adoption. It is at the forefront of the study of Fragile X Syndrome. Although many of these children’s conditions are “invisible,” they are serious and accompanied by many ongoing challenges. Very few of these problems are “quick-fixes” — they can require numerous consultations and extensive pre- and post-consult work. Often, parents have difficulty advocating for their children due to cultural, educational and language differences. The Stramski Center fills this gap by facilitating access to services and monitoring

progress. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the center is able to provide individualized care to help children reach their optimum potential. We are proud to support this crucially needed center with the help of the community.



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