The Incredible Shrinking Man

donald and joyce

By Pat Cumiskey, FACES Case Manager in Augusta

Lutheran Services of Georgia’s FACES program works to give individuals with developmental disabilities the support and tools they need to thrive in their communities. FACES client Donald’s journey is a success story, demonstrating what can happen when one person decides to try to positively influence another person’s life.

Donald was experiencing difficulties living at home and needed structure and guidance, so Adult Protective Services referred him to LSG. When Donald came to live with Support Companion Joyce Lassiter in Hephzibah in August of 2013, he lacked some of the basic skills necessary for him to thrive. His hygiene and self-care skills were very poor and he had minimal social skills. In addition, Donald was significantly overweight, due to unhealthy and uncontrolled eating habits.

After her first meeting with Donald, Mrs. Lassiter realized that he needed more structure to his life and welcomed the challenge. One of the first things she decided to do was to discuss Donald’s capacity for exercise and caloric intake with his primary care provider. She also encouraged Donald to begin a walking program at home and even accompanied him for his walks. Through Mrs. Lassiter’s encouragement to make better eating decisions and limit his portions, Donald has learned to make healthy food choices both at home and when dining out. He began to lose weight and, when people noticed, he became happier about himself.

In June, Donald went to the doctor for a regular visit and weighed in at 100 pounds less than a year ago, an incredible accomplishment, and has gone from a 60-inch waist to a size of 48 inches. Donald looks better, feels better, and it shows in so many ways. He is more sociable and becoming the healthy, happy young man we all hoped he could be.

LSG congratulates Donald for his accomplishments and thanks Joyce for truly making a difference through her care.

LSG Nurse Helps Clients Reach Healthy Tomorrows

When Cathy Dandelakis’ son entered the FACES program, little did she know that this was only the beginning of her involvement with Lutheran Services of Georgia. LSG’s FACES program places individuals with developmental disabilities in supportive host homes where they can thrive.

Cathy holds 37 years of knowledge and experience serving medically-fragile populations as a mother, a teacher, a nurse, and a caregiver. Her passion for caregiving began while in nursing school. During the summer, she worked the night shift on a cancer ward as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CAN). Along with caring for the physical needs of her patients, she provided emotional support and companionship for patients in their final moments. “I worked with people who were sleepless, who were sad, who were angry, who were lonely, and many would pass away with no family in the middle of the night,” she recalled. Cathy’s presence reminded them that they were not alone. There, on the cancer ward, she discovered that nursing was more than a career for her—it was her calling.

After Cathy’s son entered FACES, LSG asked Cathy to help train the support companions who would become her son’s primary caregivers. Cathy agreed and was of such tremendous help to FACES staff and volunteers that LSG asked Cathy to provide training for other host homes. She began writing protocol for FACES case managers, sharing best practices for working with medically-fragile people.

In January 2013, Cathy agreed to join the LSG staff. Her current role includes handling administrative work connected with LSG’s medically-fragile clients, visiting host homes, writing healthcare protocol, and training LSG staff and caregivers. Cathy is always on-call to provide respite assistance or guidance for caregivers and case managers. “As a mother of a very handicapped person,” she remarked, “I know the value of respite. Everyone needs respite, and more than once a year. They need it frequently to replenish themselves, to replenish their souls.”

Cathy’s passion and expertise are immensely beneficial for LSG staff and clients. Cathy used her familiarity with the medical world to advocate on behalf of Matthew*, a nine-year-old boy in LSG’s specialized foster care program. Matthew has SMA Type 1, a rare disease that kills most infants born with it within their first two years of life. Given Matthew’s extreme fragility, the Georgia Department of Family and Child Services expressed concern about his care. Cathy visited Matthew’s foster family and nurse, and then reported back to DFCS that Matthew was indeed receiving great care. Now, Cathy visits the family every few months to check in on their needs. Thanks to the collaboration of Cathy, the foster family, and Matthew’s nurses, Matthew has not been hospitalized for over six years, a truly remarkable accomplishment.

LSG thanks Cathy for using her knowledge, skills, and love of caregiving to help provide excellent care and bring healthy tomorrows to individuals and families throughout Georgia.

*Name has been changed to protect the client.

LSG Refugee Client Receives Much-Needed Dental Care

 By Emily Laney, Program Manager for Atlanta Refugee Services

It’s no secret that our refugee clients face unique challenges as they adjust to life in the United States. We love watching clients grow and thrive in their new community, but some face very difficult challenges in that process, especially in the area of health.

We have a client who has a major medical concern that will require lengthy treatment. The client was told by his doctor that the needed treatment would be delayed until he could get some dental work done- including a deep cleaning. Many of our clients face major dental barriers because Medicaid does not typically cover dental cleanings and newly arrived refugees usually do not have the extra funds to pay for cleanings out of pocket.

But in the case of this client, we knew that we had to find a resource for him. We are so thankful for our friends at the Good Samaritan Health Center of Cobb who took on our client’s case and provided him with excellent dental care. Many of the dentists and doctors at Good Samaritan are volunteers and truly care about the wellbeing of the people they treat. We have been blown away by the care shown to our client. At a recent event several staff from the clinic asked us for an update and expressed their desire to keep up with his treatment. They truly have servant’s hearts and genuinely care about people. There are so many amazing organizations who work hard to serve the vulnerable, including Good Samaritan. We want to make sure our supporters know about this awesome organization. They are always looking for skilled medical and dental volunteers to increase the amount of free and reduced cost medical and dental care to Georgia residents. Check out their website at

Malachi's Mirth

Most of us cannot remember the first time we heard our mothers say our name or bring to mind the first time we started crying because we laughed so hard. For Malachi, though, these memories are not so distant. On a momentous day earlier this year, he began to hear the sounds of the world, including the wonderful music of his mother’s voice and his own ringing laughter, which he could hardly contain.

Malachi is a six-year-old boy with Treacher Collins syndrome, born without some of the bones in his face and neck. For the first several years of his life, he lived in a group home for medically fragile children, where he did not have the attention that he needed. Without an ear canal, he could not hear, and no one at his group home worked to get him the surgery that he needed to have hearing aids put in. The nurses had to care for many children, and Malachi’s surgery was not pursued.

Then, in 2012, Amy and Derron saw Malachi for the first time and fell in love. They already had a child with Treacher Collins syndrome and knew that they could offer the love and stability that would allow Malachi to thrive. Having already adopted three other children through LSG, Amy and Derron worked with LSG’s case managers to finalize the adoption of Malachi. Earlier this year, they welcomed him into their family.

With parents now to advocate for his care, Malachi underwent surgery to have a hearing aid put into his ear. The effect of this surgery was remarkable. Five weeks after the surgery, Malachi returned to the doctor to have the hearing aids turned on. When the doctor pressed the right button, Malachi suddenly began to giggle. He could not stop giggling. New sounds flooded his ears for the first time, and he could not do anything but giggle. And then his parents laughed until their stomachs hurt and tears of joy flowed from their eyes. “It was literally a miraculous moment,” Amy recalls. “The overwhelming joy that came from that child was unbelievable. Other than the moment that a child calls you mom or dad, this was the most important moment for Derron and me as parents.”

With his new hearing aids, Malachi is now thriving. Although in kindergarten, he reads at a first grade level and has begun to write and speak. He loves to run around outside, color in his coloring books, and play with his trains. He also relishes his role on the special needs tumbling and cheerleading team, The Renegades. He is the “flyer,” the child who is on top of the pyramid and in the middle of the stunts. Before the surgery, he could feel the beat of the music, but now he can hear the music. The music, the noises, the sounds: everything is clearer to Malachi now that he can hear. But perhaps nothing is as clear as the love of his parents, a love that surrounds him every day and shows him that he is accepted as he is.