How early intervention makes an EPIC difference in a child’s life

Ethan Vance loves to eat — hardly unusual for any 7-year-old boy.

But it wasn’t always that way. Ethan was born with Down syndrome, two holes in his heart and fluid in his chest. He underwent open heart surgery as a baby.

After five months in the hospital, he was sent home with a surgically placed gastrostomy tube in his chest and a referral for VersAbility Resources.

VersAbility’s Early Prevention and Intervention for Children (EPIC) program didn’t just give Ethan’s mother, Debra, answers. It gave her direction and hands-on support. EPIC supports infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays and their families by providing the services and therapy they need to be successful in school, work, and life.

Ethan wouldn’t eat. He wouldn’t touch food. Robin Drummond, manager of EPIC, set up a therapy team that began making regular visits to the Vance home.

“They were a vital part of his life,” Debra says. “He was excited to see them and still is. He still receives private therapy. Those therapists are his people.”

Two years later, Ethan’s feeding tube was removed. Now at the age of 7, Ethan has a hearty appetite. Debra has relief and gratitude. She paid nothing for the services.

“Thank God for them,” Debra says. “Everyone should be aware of what VersAbility does and what they stand for and what they can do for all people.”

Ethan’s challenge was eating, but therapists from VersAbility Resources can help navigate families through multiple issues through early intervention. Although EPIC is a volunteer programs — parents can use services for some or all of their child’s first three years — many families stay for the duration.

If you have time, visit VersAbility’s YouTube channel here and hear Ethan’s story from Debra herself.

To qualify for one of EPIC’s services, a child must have a 25% delay in one or more developmental areas and demonstrate atypical development in motor or social skills. Children diagnosed with Down syndrome, vision and hearing loss or autism also qualify.

Screenings are free for children under 3 who reside in Newport News and Hampton.

To speak with a representative from the EPIC program, contact Dianne Fennell at (757) 896-8457 or

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