TOWNSEND — Longtime friend Lisa Pratt says Karen Cusick is the perfect candidate for a world’s greatest mom award.
“She’s such a strong person, a loving friend, very committed to helping others and always there to lend an ear,” Pratt said of Cusick,
Pratt and Cusick met when they were working with mentally disabled adults.
Pratt was Cusick’s boss and they immediately became great friends. She was touched when Cusick asked her to be godmother to her first child, Hayden, now 6.
“I was there through the years with Karen while she was trying to get pregnant,” Pratt said.
It took seven years and three IVF (In vitro fertilization) treatments for Cusick to finally conceive Hayden.
“I was the first call she made with the news and I was honored to be asked to be his godmother,” Pratt added.
Cusick, born in Nashua, N.H., moved to Houston along with mother Claire and sister Robin and Kristen, when her father, Dan, retired from the Manchester, N.H., Police Department.
After graduating with a degree in psychology from the University of Houston, she moved to the Boston area looking for job opportunities.
She met her husband, Kevin, shortly after moving to Boston and they settled in Townsend because of Kevin’s job with National Grid.
For seven years, the couple tried to have a child before Karen finally became pregnant with Hayden through IVF. After he was born, both Karen and Kevin suspected something was going on with Hayden.
The neurologist said Hayden was a little delayed but would catch up as he got older. When things weren’t progressing as they should, they sought a second opinion at Children’s Hospital in Boston, where Hayden was diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome at age 2 1/2. By then, the family included a daughter, Sophia, with a son, Brody, on the way.
Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), also called Martin-Bell syndrome, is the most common type of inherited intellectual disability. Individuals with FXS inherit a mutant gene that’s unable to produce enough protein that the body’s cells — especially brain cells — need to develop and function normally.
Symptoms are lifelong, but they range from mild to severe, with greater severity in males than females. They can include social anxiety, attention deficits, speech and language disorders and increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli.
Most children with FXS can develop basic academic skills, although they may need more time to learn or require special education.
Karen Cusick is undaunted by the challenges of raising Hayden.
“I’ve been trained my whole life, having a sister with special needs,” she said. “I feel it’s God’s way of preparing me for having a son with special needs.”
Her sister, Kristen, has never been tested for Fragile X, but the family suspects she has the syndrome.
Cusick learned after testing that she is a carrier of the mutation. She said daughter Sophia, 5, has the mutation, but while she may have problems in math in the future, her development has not been delayed and she’s a happy-go-lucky little girl. Brody, 4, tested negative for any mutations.
She’s grateful for early intervention through the Lipton Center in Fitchburg. Hayden’s therapist “worked so wonderfully” with him and was instrumental in giving her the name of Parent Resource coordinator Nancy Amante, whose baby groups and support were instrumental in helping her connect with other moms in town and finding the support.
The school system has provided Hayden with one-on-one aides and Karen believes she couldn’t have made it without them.
Amante, facilitator for the North Middlesex Parent Resource Center, said Cusick was a perfect choice for Mom of the Month. “No matter how busy Karen is, she is always willing to help someone else,” Amante said. “When I think of Karen I see a fun, strong, optimistic person and whatever comes her way, she will handle it.”
The day-to-day obligations of raising a family haven’t kept Cusick from getting involved in the community. She’s a take-charge member of the Squannicook Early Childhood Center PTO, serving as its secretary, and she’s active in the Townsend Ecumenical Organization, sorting clothing and bringing donations from other moms.
She volunteers at Spaulding Memorial School, which Hayden and Sophia attend, and is an active participant in Mommies Mobile Meals, a group that provides meals to those in need in the community.
Cusick said Hayden is “a good kid, has his quirks, loves to have fun, play ball, go swimming.”
She appreciates Townsend’s sense of community and, for some time, she has wanted to get a support group together for moms of children with special needs.
“If you’re having a bad day, you can bounce ideas off each other or just a person that can listen and relate,” she said. “Maybe someone has an older child and can help someone through those earlier years because they have been there.”
Karen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.