From the moment he was born, Tal (not his real name) suffered the agony of narcotic withdrawal. His mother had used Heroin all through her pregnancy and Tal displayed classic signs of NAD (narcotic abstinence syndrome). His symptoms included tremors, poor feeding, breathing issues, irritability, fever, low muscle tone, and stiffness.
At the age of four months, Tal was referred by the welfare authorities to the WIZO Neve Nof Day Care Centre in Lod sponsored by WIZO Belgium. He had severe mental and motor development issues. Tal was a very sad baby. In the early days in WIZO’s care, Tal would lay rigid in his cot with a pained expression. Tears ran down his cheeks and yet he barely had the strength to cry. Unlike the other babies, he did not kick his legs or arms. He did not respond to heat, cold or hunger and no matter how much the caregivers tried to raise a smile from him none was forthcoming, and as the other babies began to sit up, and to crawl, Tal lay still. The day care centre director, Meirav, nursed Tal and he began to eat. She spoke softly to him, and carried him around the nursery pointing out everything in an attempt to coax a reaction. She said that he was just like a rag doll in her arms.
Meirav explained: “Tal required a comprehensive treatment regime to stimulate his cognitive and motor senses. It is between the age of four months to 12 months that mental and motor-sensory deficiencies surface and this is the time when treatment becomes crucial. We worked tirelessly, together with WIZO therapists, to stimulate movement and strengthen his flaccid muscles and bouts of limb stiffness. You would always find me sitting in my office massaging his little arms and legs while doing other jobs. Tal taught me to multi-task!”
Eventually, the weak and fretful baby began to put weight on. He started to respond to treatment and caught up with many of the other babies. The perseverance of the day care staff paid off. When Tal took his first steps, the entire day care centre erupted in applause. Tal’s grandmother who looks after him witnessed that memorable event. “When he toddled towards me, with a big smile on his face, it was the happiest day of my life. I have endured so much heartache with my daughter in and out of rehab, I volunteer at the day care centre, helping to feed the babies at meal times. It keeps me from thinking about my own problems, and now, for the first time, I can see that Tal has a chance to look forward to a happy and healthy future. I have WIZO to thank for that,” Said Tal’s grandmother.
Caregiver Sigal added, “Oh but you should see him now! We call him ‘Tal hatotach’ (Tal the cannonball). He never sits still; he is full of energy. He is such a bright, inquisitive child.” Meirav adds, “I am often asked if it is difficult to work in a day care centre where the needs of the local population are so great, as they are here in Lod. It is true to say that we fight a battle for the children in our care on a daily basis but I would not have it any other way. Seeing Tal, and the other little children like him running around the playground laughing and smiling makes it all worthwhile.”
Tal is not the only baby at the WIZO Neve Nof Day Care Centre whose earliest years have been blighted by circumstances and the life choices forced upon them by their parents. He is one of many who have been referred by the welfare services. “We don’t differentiate,” Said Meirav. “It doesn’t matter how difficult their backgrounds are . What matters to us is that these children get the same start in life as every other child so that they are equipped to face whatever the future holds. Here in Lod, life is not easy but why should they suffer? In our care, they thrive, they get home cooked nutritious meals, they play, they learn and they are safe. They get remedial treatments when needed and of course all the love and hugs that every child deserves.”
(Names changed to preserve anonymity)
(Photo for illustration purposes only)