Dan Perritano and his 23-year-old daughter with special needs encounter many literal intersections on a trip from their home in Erie to Washington, DC – with him walking, all the while pushing her around in a three-wheeled buggy.
The trip is also a metaphorical intersection for his love of Emma, his love of riding with him, his penchant for walking and pushing, the van-based support of Perritano’s wife, Jane Brady, the mother of ‘Emma; as well as the money they raise for Erie Homes for Children and Adults and the recognition they generate for the challenges faced by families with special needs.
Friday also had the weather: cool enough to see your breath when they started at Cresson around 7am, sunny and windy, with clear air and puffy clouds.
Emma was born healthy, but eight days later her brain began to bleed, creating pressure that caused irrevocable damage, according to her parents, who spoke to the Sheetz at McKee late Friday morning, towards the end of that day’s journey along Old Route 22 and Routes 220 and 36. Doctors at UPMC Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh stabilized Emma, performing procedures to relieve the pressure, including inserting a shunt that still remains, they said.
They sent her home after making sure she could eat, Perritano and Brady said, and watched her grow.
When Emma started to turn around, they said “Yay!,” Brady called back.
When she first took Cheerios they said “Yay!,” he said.
But with Emma’s cerebral palsy, he remained “wait and watch,” she says.
They enrolled Emma in an early intervention program, which included speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.
They enrolled her in school, where she was included, when possible – in the hopes that others would become more tolerant as much as Emma herself would directly benefit, according to Brady.
Over time, the deficits became clearer.
Emma can’t speak for the most part, although she can sometimes repeat words from songs she likes.
She knows colors and shapes, follows simple instructions, understands much of what is going on around her and is good at communicating her needs and wants, her parents said.
After spending a day with her, anyone would know what she’s trying to convey, Brady said.
She can use a computer mouse and even knows how to get rid of ads, so she can access Taylor Swift videos faster, Brady said.
She also loves YouTube and the Beatles, including “So be it” and “I want to hold your hand,” Brady said.
When she listens to Van Halen “Jump” in her buggy, she climbs to the rhythm of the music, says her father.
And she loves hanging out with her parents — so much so that she’s appalled when they return to the garage after a ride, Brady said.
But she can’t understand complex ideas or do academic work, like math,
her parents said.
On Friday at Sheetz, his communication efforts included frequent and emphatic pointings to tell his dad it was time to start walking again.
When Brady asked, “Who wants the ice cream,” Emma’s mouth opened in delight and her hand went up.
The initial awareness of her daughter’s disabilities hit Perritano harder than it hit Brady, but it ended faster, Perritano said.
“As a parent with special needs, I think you are grieving,” he said.
The difficulties of caring for Emma, including the need for personal and recurrent interventions, are real.
Still, the times spent walking with her are joyous, Perritano said.
They’ve made the long fundraising trips in the summers since he acquired the buggy in 2015, he said.
“It opened up (our) world”, he said. “We can do things. »
Fundraising helps create context and justification.
But it would still work, Perritano said.
Somehow, he frequently goes out with the buggy near their home in Erie, even in difficult weather.
He’s a runner and he likes to keep moving, he said.
He’s 57, and when he retires from his job coaching football for Penn State Behrend, and Brady, the campus registrar, retires, they’ll be doing what they do in the summer all the time, they said.
Such a life could include discussions of the challenges of families with special needs in schools wherever they travel, Perritano said.
Summer walks, the encounters they create – as well as such discussions in communities – can help shift society towards the empathy for people with special needs that has become so much more common today than It wasn’t generations ago, Perritano and Brady said.
“She touches a lot of people” Perritano said of Emma. “She connects us.”
Anyone interested in tracking their progress can search “Emma and Dan’s 2022 Summer Walk” to connect to the family’s Facebook page, they said, where people can view Perritano’s daily “stories” about the trip.
This summer’s walk is approximately 320 miles and began in March, with weekend forays, each followed by a return home to Erie, with the next walk starting where the last left off, Perritano said.
The family parted ways from their home base on Sunday after reaching Punxsutawney.
They first stayed at a bed and breakfast near Prince Gallitzin State Park.
On Thursday, they moved into a dormitory at Mount Aloysius College, their current base.
They return to base after a daily march of about 15 miles, until the return distance becomes too great.
Then they move on to the next base.
That next base will be in Hagerstown, Maryland, Perritano said.
They expect to arrive in Washington around June 12.
The Mirror’s staff writer, William Kibler, is at 814-949-7038.