Our Zoo Trip Was 17 Months in the Making

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by Meagan Cheney |

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This past week, we reached another milestone in the baby steps we are taking to return to our normal lives amid the pandemic. And the experience was amazing.

Since we moved to Colorado in June 2016, we have maintained our membership to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs. As a mom, I love that I can bring my kids to a place where they can learn about the animals and how the zoo is supporting wildlife conservation. I value our membership so much that I considered it a part of our home-school curriculum!

As of last week, it had been 17 months since we had walked through the zoo’s gates. My kids had been begging to go every month, but Mama just didn’t feel comfortable. Their efforts only picked up when a long-awaited penguin and hippo exhibit finally opened. Austen, my 6-year-old with Dravet syndrome, has been especially excited to see the penguins.

Last week, a friend asked if we wanted to join them at the zoo for a day. I quickly checked the zoo’s COVID-19 precautions, as my youngest two children are currently unable to get vaccinated, and decided I finally felt it was safe enough to go. We brought along a lot of hand sanitizer, and I warned the kids we might not stay too long. Then we packed a lunch, made our reservations, and headed out the door.

When we arrived, I realized we had brought Austen’s emergency medications but had forgotten her oxygen at home. I called my husband in a panic and he told me to breathe. Thanks to Fintepla (fenfluramine), we haven’t been seeing as many seizures, so we should just say a prayer that today wouldn’t be one of the few unlucky days. Austen wore her sunglasses throughout the trip and — spoiler alert — we did not see any seizures. Woohoo!

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Let me tell you, the wait almost made the zoo experience even better.

We eased our way in and didn’t get around to all of our favorite animals. But we got to feed the giraffes — a highlight of every trip. The kids get to pet them, and they even give kisses if you don’t move away fast enough.

After the giraffes, we made our way over to the long-anticipated new exhibit. Austen sat right down in front of the penguins’ window and wouldn’t budge for at least 10 minutes. She was mesmerized as they swam around their tank. If she could have managed it, there is no doubt in my mind she would have climbed in there with them. Maybe it’s the autism, maybe it’s simply her being a little girl, but the penguins are definitely her new obsession.

At the hippo exhibit, we were also in for a treat. A mama hippo had just given birth the day before! I was impressed that my kids were willing to stay quiet, and we were able to catch a glimpse of the mama and baby cuddling each other in the water.

A picnic at the playground, a trip to the petting zoo where Austen chased the chickens, and a little time spent brushing the goats rounded out our stay. It wasn’t our longest zoo visit ever, but we all were grateful to add another piece back to the puzzle we call our “normal” lives.

I’m still eagerly anticipating the vaccine’s approval for younger children. Atlas, 7, and Austen will be first in line when it becomes available. But even while we wait, I am slowly learning to set my fears aside and move in the direction of normal. It won’t happen all at once, but eventually, we will get there.


Note: Dravet Syndrome News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Dravet Syndrome News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Dravet syndrome.


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