By REID TUCKER
Brianne Gregor found her life’s purpose when she and her husband learned their son, Easton, was going to be born with Down syndrome. Having received the difficult news, Gregor was determined to bend her energies toward achieving positive ends and thus embarked on a campaign of self-education about the genetic disorder, which is estimated to affect one of every 691 babies born in the United States. Over the course of the year since Easton’s birth it became clear to Gregor that the public is not nearly as aware of Down syndrome as it is about other disorders, and she knew that rectifying that problem was to be her calling.
“I meant what I said when I found out that [Easton] had Down’s – things were going to be different for him than they had been for everybody else,” Gregor said. “In order to create awareness you have to educate people. If we can get the word out there about Down syndrome then we will have achieved our goal.” Just this past summer Gregor, alongside her friend and fellow Down’s mom Stefanie Shea, of Crestview, stepped up their plans to educate their communities in a big way. The pair raised thousands of dollars through various fundraisers to post billboards advertising National Down Syndrome Awareness Month along major highways in DeFuniak Springs, Crestview and Niceville throughout the month of October.
The next phase of Gregor’s plan, and perhaps the most momentous, was to get Walton County to participate for the first time in the National Down Syndrome Society’s Buddy Walk program. Gregor, an employee at Walton High School, turned the project over to the WHS Anchor Club to organize the event. The Walton County Buddy Walk, being centrally located in the Panhandle will serve counties from Escambia to Holmes, as the next-nearest events are held in Panama City Beach and in Mobile and Dothan, Ala.
Registration for the event, to be held Saturday, Oct. 26, at the Walton High School track, is $15 up to the day of the Buddy Walk. Seven teams have signed up so far, and about four of the seven teams represent a local family affected by Down syndrome, Gregor said. Though she helped the Anchor Club brainstorm ideas, Gregor said her role in this year’s Buddy Walk will be as a participant with her son in the day-long charity walk-a-thon.
While there are still challenges to be overcome, not least of which is that National Down Syndrome Awareness Month shares October with more well-known causes like breast cancer awareness, Gregor hopes this year’s Buddy Walk and round of billboards will be the first of many to come. Ultimately, her goal is to help make the community aware of Down syndrome through education, and learning, of course, is something that never stops.
“I want to be there for others however I can,” she said. “Most people do not know much about Down syndrome unless they are immersed in that situation. The more people we can reach and help, the better and happier I will be.”