The 'Perfect Place' for West Orange Special Needs Child

West Orange couple find special hospital and school in Somerset County is "perfect place" for their special needs daughter.

The scariest part of being parents of a special needs child, says Jacob Poleyeff, is, "What to do in an emergency. There's no fall back." Since May 2012, Jenna Poleyeff, the 10-year-old daughter of Jacob and Lauren Poleyeff of West Orange has lived at the Matheny Medical and Educational Center, a special hospital and educational facility in Peapack for children and adults with medically complex developmental disabilities. Prior to that, she was a day student at the Matheny School, and her father admits thinking that when an opportunity came up for residency, "I wasn't sure I could let her go, although I knew it was probably the best thing."

When a bed became available at Matheny in May, the Poleyeffs came face-to-face with the toughest decision they would probably ever have to make. "As she grows, her physical needs get harder to handle," her mother Lauren explains, "but when the call came that a bed was available, I thought it was a little too soon." However, the couple knew that if they turned down the residential opportunity, it might be three or four years before her name came up again. "It was hard," Lauren Poleyeff admits. "I cried." The Poleyeffs did, however, with Matheny's help, manage to make the transition a little easier than it might have been. "I insisted we leave her there on a Thursday," Jacob Poleyeff recalls. "We brought her home for the weekend the next day instead of going a whole week. We passed that test."

Jenna was born at 36 1/2 weeks and went home from the hospital with everything supposedly normal. When she was about four months old, her parents noticed that she wasn't holding her head up. When she was one year old, an MRI disclosed some brain malformations and, by the time she was 18-20 months old, she began having what her mother described as "little tics. They were subtle, but they were happening frequently." An EEG revealed that Jenna had Lennox Gastaut syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. The toughest part of caring for Jenna had been managing her seizures, but, since December 7, 2011, according to her father, "she has not had an obvious seizure."

As for her residency at Matheny, Jacob Poleyeff acknowledges that, "We didn't know what to expect, but when she comes home, she's happy, and when we go back to Matheny, she looks out the window and is happy, too. When we were introduced to Matheny, we never met so many caring people in one day."

"Matheny," explains Lauren, "is able to do things with her that we're not able to. They take her out to restaurants, baseball games, and she likes bowling, swimming and the sensory room (a specially designed interactive room with soft play areas and special lighting)."

Jenna, the Poleyeffs say, is comfortable in her environment, and the staff members at Matheny "go out of their way" to provide the little extras that make the hospital and school seem like home. One example is a special prayer the Poleyeffs would sing to Jenna at home before she went to bed. "Somebody suggested recording it," Jacob says, "so it could be played at Matheny. When she's home, I sing it, and when she's at Matheny, they play the recording. Matheny is the perfect place for her."

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