Family embraces children with special needs

by Paul Rignell
Contributing writer

Mark and Julie Martindale, of rural Elk River, do not live in a typical house. Then again, theirs is not the typical family.

Starting a family with the birth of their son, Tyler, now 21, when they were living in Anoka, the couple learned that a second biological child, whom they would name McKenna, would be born with encephalocele, a form of spina bifida. “When we realized we were going to have a child with disabilities, we were pretty shocked,” Mark Martindale told the Star News.

Photos by Paul Rignell
Accurate Home Care CEO Amy Nelson and Sen. Al Franken share a smile with 5-year-old Maisy Martindale, who, despite undergoing 27 surgeries in her few years, is eager to share all that she has learned in preschool.

McKenna survived her infancy in spite of some doubts, and Mark and Julie began to look at each other in agreement that the home and family they were building was strong enough to expand and embrace other children with special needs.

The first brother they welcomed for Tyler and McKenna, who is now 20, fell between the siblings in age. Aaron, who is 21 but six months younger than Tyler, contracted meningitis at a very young age, developed cerebral palsy and is considered deaf-blind, said Mark, as Aaron cannot hear and is legally blind.

The parents next adopted a daughter, Hope, 18, whom they had previously fostered and was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

She is followed in age among the siblings by a brother, Jordan, 16, whom the Martindales adopted at 6 years after fostering Jordan, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and also battles ADHD.

Mark and Julie adopted their middle child, Brennan, who is 14 and diagnosed with ADHD, when he was an infant from a private agency in Alabama.

They came to know their next son, Kaden, now 8 and born with FAS, through Anoka County foster care.

The next child, Evan, is the one in the Martindale family who did not survive his problems from birth for much more than a year. Evan suffered from a premature and unstable birth, born with addictions to multiple drugs, and was dependent on a trachea vent for breathing throughout his short number of months.

Sen. Al Franken reads a medication and care schedule kept by mother Julie Martindale. “This is a way of life for you,” he noted.

The Martindales brought Evan to their Anoka home at 12 months old in June 2006. They lost him just four weeks later, but Evan’s time in the family home before his death gave Mark and Julie their first experience with in-home health care.

Then, similar to their revelation before adopting Aaron more than 10 years prior, the couple decided they could parent more children not only with special needs, but who would require some in-home nursing care.

With that decision, Mark and Julie knew they would have to accept greater responsibility with each child, as no in-home nurse could be there around the clock daily. The couple had gone through a great amount of training before bringing Evan to their home.

Elijah, 7, and Maisy, 5, both came to the Martindales from the Hennepin County foster system. Elijah has been diagnosed with autism and with Shwachman-Diamond syndrome, which can affect bone marrow and Elijah underwent a transplant last year.

Maisy relied on a trachea vent until age 3, and after several open-heart procedures (she has a pacemaker now), four cranial reconstructions and still some other work to correct intestinal malrotation, she leads her siblings with 27 surgeries, by Mark and Julie’s count.

She has one younger brother, Isaac, who will turn 4 in February. Isaac has cerebral palsy and static encephalopathy, and is quadriplegic, and the Martindales adopted him in response to a call from the foster mother in Alabama whom from they had also received Brennan.

Elijah and Maisy each benefit from 12-hour shifts of nursing care up to three times weekly from RNs and LPNs coordinated by Accurate Home Care, which opened as an agency in Zimmerman in January 2002, moved offices to Elk River in 2005 and then to Otsego last June while still retaining a base in Elk River.

Nursing staff from Accurate visits the Martindale home 12 hours each day solely to cover Isaac’s needs, and Mark and Julie take turns through the other hours in caring for Isaac — who is scheduled to receive 35 doses of different medications around the clock — in addition to parenting and caring for their other children at home.

Tyler is on another continent, studying community development at Daystar University in Nairobi, Kenya, where Mark says he is also helping to build schools while trying to convince leaders of the value of special education.

Aaron and McKenna both are building job and life skills in post-secondary work experience programs offered by Elk River Schools.

All of the Martindale children are learning. Maisy’s growing mind and spirit are soaking up and sharing songs and other lessons she has been learning in a preschool class this fall.

On a recent Friday, Maisy opened up the widest arms and broadest smile among her parents and siblings for a group of special visitors to the Martindale home that happened to include Accurate founder, president and CEO Amy Nelson.

Toward the end of Nelson’s visit, Maisy instructed her parents, nursing staff and other guests to form a circle where the 5-year-old led the group in singing and clapping through a preschool “name game,” where Maisy ensured and insisted each guest and their name would be the focus of one musical verse, including the news reporter.

But once each visitor was named in a verse led by Maisy, they could not stay in the circle. She demanded they exit that room of the Martindale home, into a hallway and out of sight.

No one was exempt from Maisy’s orders, not even the visiting U.S. Sen. Al Franken. Read more about the senator’s visit here.