For the Love of Sam
Byline: By Marie Turbill Evening Gazette
Dad Paul Walker is the first to admit that five years ago he knew nothing about Down's Syndrome.
His only experience of the condition stemmed from childhood memories of a boy who lived near his home in York.
So when his son, Sam, was born with Down's Syndrome, Paul was stunned and dismayed.
"I seem to remember looking at him and thinking to myself what have you done to me," he says.
"I was almost blaming him for not being right."
Today, however, the 39-year-old struggles to even remember those confused early feelings.
His son is four and a half years old and is both dad and mum, Penny's, pride and joy.
"I can't remember not knowing anything about Down's Syndrome now," says Paul, who is vicar at St Mary's Church in Norton.
"But I have learned so much about it, I guess I am a bit of an expert.
"It is hard to recall what went through my mind at the time."
But one thing he knows for sure is that the dismay was short lived. Which is one of the upbeat messages in a week dedicated to raising awareness of Down's Syndrome.
Says Paul: "I don't think it took us that long to come to terms with it.
"That makes me sound like I think I am some really good person, but it was not that.
"Just over a year before we had a still birth baby which had a big effect on me. Compared to that Down's Syndrome was nothing.
"A lot of people asked if it affected my faith which I found a bizarre question. I have never thought like that.
"I am not a person who believes things happen for a reason so the question why? never entered my head."
Paul describes his next move as a typical male response.
"I got hundreds of books out to learn as much about it as possible and searched the Internet."
But the thing he craved most was the opportunity to talk to someone who had been through the same thing, to speak to someone with Down's Syndrome to help him understand.
"Lots of people say when you have a disabled child you immediately start worrying about the future and what is going to happen, it was the same for me.
"You wonder what will happen when they are 50 but it seems a bizarre thing to think when I look back now.
"I have two older daughters, Ellie, 14, and Jess, ten. I didn't think like that when they were born."
But remembering his own need to speak to others in the same position was part of what later inspired Paul and three other parents of children with Down's to set up the Teesside Down's Syndrome Support Group.
Today there are about 35 families in the group who get together for regular meetings and events. …