Special birthday

Jack O’Connor, second from right, presents a $700 check to his brother Ryan. Others pictured are, from left: Matheny School principal Sean Murphy, student Jacob Rolaf, teaching assistant Kristin Barone, Ryan and Jack, student Sara Hoffman and her nurse Nancy Winder.

When Jack O’Connor turned 12, he decided to use his birthday to help the Matheny School, where his younger brother Ryan is a student. So, he told his friends at the Immaculate Conception School in Annandale, NJ, to give him money that he would, in turn, donate to Matheny. His friends came through, and Jack visited Matheny recently to present a check for $700.

Ten-year-old Ryan, who was born with a very rare chromosome deletion, has been a student at Matheny for 7 ½ years. His mother Debbie says Matheny is “a safe environment made up of amazing people who give everything so that our children have a life that, as a parent of a special needs child, I never would have thought possible.”

Life-changing decision

Debbie O’Connor speaking at the Matheny School open house.

Ryan O’Connor was born 10 years ago with a very rare chromosome deletion. His family was told that he would function at an extremely low level and would never walk or talk.

When Ryan reached three years of age, it was time for him to go to school. The O’Connors learned about Matheny through their son’s therapists and the Clinton Township School District. “I’ll never forget the first day I brought him here,” Debbie O’Connor said recently at the Matheny School’s open house. “I was in denial and was so afraid to leave my child in the care of strangers. But these strangers quickly became the people who would change his life and our lives. A child who could barely eat began to slowly learn how to swallow. A child with very limited gross motors skills began to learn how to move. A child with no fine motor skills began to learn to pick up his own food.”

Then, on Christmas Day 2008, “Ryan gave us a true Christmas miracle. With a house filled with family and friends, Ryan stood up and began to walk, completely unassisted, through our home. He wandered for several minutes from room to room taking in his surroundings while we all watched in complete amazement.”

All of these milestones were reached because of Matheny. “There are no limitations here,” O’Connor said. “No one looks at our children and ever says the words, ‘They can’t do that.’ Matheny is a place where miracles happen everyday.”

Ryan O’Connor.