A woman who managed to balance it all – working full-time, getting a Ph.D., getting married, having and adopting children, some with disabilities, and losing a young son.
How she carries on and inspires others puts Dr. Elizabeth Washington as one of the four finalists of our Remarkable Women of the Ozarks.
Waynesville, MO. — After a normal pregnancy, Dante was born at 35 weeks on May 19, 2013.
His mom, Dr. Elizabeth Washington, says he cried that day, which was the first and last time he would do so.
The only exception to any other sound Dante would make was some cooing while lying in bed with his dad. A moment Dr. Washington caught on cam. Doctors had told her it was medically impossible for Dante to make any sound.
After two weeks in the NICU, several exams, and visits, doctors could not find out what was wrong with baby Dante. So, Washington contacted specialists all over the country, determined to find an answer. Until finally, she found a doctor who specialized in rare diseases. Dante was diagnosed with a severe case of brain stem disconnection syndrome.
He lived to be eight months and eight days, a much longer life expectancy than other, very few, babies who had been diagnosed with the same condition. Studies suggested babies born with brain stem disconnection syndrome live up to seven or eight weeks.
Washington decided to allow an autopsy to help doctors find a genetic cause for the condition.
“You can’t ever have closure when you lose a child, but it gave me some type of closure knowing that there were answers that could help other families down the road,” she said.
Finding purpose through pain is one of the reasons Ricky Harne nominated Dr. Washington for Remarkable Women of the Ozarks.
“I think in life, everybody is given some different situations. I think the key is how do you handle those?” he said. “If anyone would fit that title of “Remarkable Women of the Ozarks,” that would be her.”
Harne is a board member at the Waynesville School District, where Dr. Washington is the director of Special Services overseeing special and gifted education, E.S.L., and many other programs.
“I’m a parent of children with disabilities, so any decision I make with any of my programs, I always think about ‘if I was the parent of that child, is that what I would want?'” she said.
Her passion for special education started in the prison system, where she worked with inmates with disabilities.
“About 70 percent of them did not have a high school diploma or a G.E.D., and a lot of it was due to disabilities. They had been undiagnosed or didn’t have access to the resources they needed,” Dr. Washington said.
Washington later taught high school special ed for three years in Nixa and Republic.
She’s also the mother of eight children – seven boys and one girl.
“She runs the show,” says Dr. Washigton.
Seven of her kids have disabilities, and four of the eight are adopted.
“I was adopted, so I knew that’s what I wanted to do someday,” she said.
Harne says Dr. Washington is an example of strength and grace.
“The perseverance that she showed. And that was the biggest thing. But then the fact that she’s changed so many other people’s lives that, for all intents and purposes, maybe wouldn’t have had a chance in life, the children she’s adopted and parented and all that,” Harne said.
Washington says you find strength when you have no other choice. Some call it resilience; she calls it an honor.
“I have seven children at home that I have to be strong for,” she said. “They’ve lost a sibling. They went through it right there with me. And I want to show them that you can go through some very traumatic things and be ok.”