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It's Happening: To Go With Flo; Ali Iaquinta George's Story of 3-Year-Old Flora, Diagnosed at Birth with Down Syndrome and Later with Leukemia

By Julie Perine on September 19, 2017 via Connect-Bridgeport.com

It's the moment most young couples dream of: The birth of their first child; looking eye to eye with the tiny being that their love created and meeting him or her for the very first time. 
 
On April 16, 2014, Bryan and Ali Iaquinta George shared that blessed occasion when their firstborn - a seven poud, three ounce baby girl - made her appearance at CAMC in Charleston. It wasn't exactly as they had envisioned, but still very wonderful.
 
"Even though I had never seen a child with Down Syndrome, I knew right away - from the first moment they laid her on my chest," Ali said. 
 
It wasn't a feeling of sadness or anxiety that swept over her. She said she just knew at that instant that this journey was going to be "different." Three and a half years into that journey, Ali says Flora's world is a beautiful, happy, sweet place and that she is a joy to be around. 
 
"She is such an amazing, sweet child and has already impacted so many people," she said. 
 
And ironically, "different" has become the norm. When little sister Poppy came along two years later, the Georges found that their baby's milestones and tendancies were what varied to what they had become used to. 
 
"So dealing with a child that isn't special is more challenging for me at this point," Ali said.
 
And to compound matters, almost all of Poppy's life has thus far been spent at the University of Iowa Children's Hospital - while Flora, who was diagnosed with leukemia at her two-year wellness checkup - received seven months of chemotherapy treatment.
 
Ali and Bryan - originally from Clarksburg and California, respectively - then Montana, but uprooted to Iowa while Flora was treated, have been through a lifetime of changes and their hearts have been on a roller coaster of emotions. 
 
That's the kind of stuff people write books about.
 
So Ali thought she would do just that. 
 
Just released Sept. 1, "To Go With Flo" is what Ali calls an adult children's book. Artwork is predominant and text is minimal. There's a couple reasons for that.
 
"I did all the images last year while we were at the hospital - starting the summer of 2016 - and once we returned back to Montana, in November, I started compiling the images and putting the book together," she said. "So I've been doing that for the last eight months and since I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old, I literally winged it - a few minutes here and there. On so many days, it's really challenging for me to have that kind of time and focus."
 
The style of Ali's book is also one which suits her thoughts and expertise. 
 
"As an art history major, I've always loved art books and like to cruise through them, so that's also kind of the model for my book - one you can pick up and admire and put back down; something an adult could read and get something out of, but it wouldn't take a couple months to get through or a lot of wordage," she said. 
 
Though short on words, the book is big on message. 
 
"The major message is to never give up and just always keep your faith in God - that he has a plan and to just find the little blessings, even in the darkest situations," Ali said.
 
"To Go With Flo" has already been read by people across the country.
 
"We've had orders from New Mexico to New York," Ali said. "It's pretty cool." 
 
Like interest, feedback has been plentiful. 
 
"People feel the book is very inspiring and some people have gone through similar situations and can relate," Ali said. "Others say they have just really enjoyed it as a testament of hope and faith and love and most importantly, just community and family getting together for love."
 
Flora is in remission.
 
"Right now, we get her blood checked routinely - every six weeks," Ali said. "That will continue for the next five years, then it will be spaced out to every six months."
 
Having endured months of chemo, Flora has gone from toddler to warrior, her mom said. And she is all the more amazing. 
 
"I could just stare at her for hours," Ali said. "She is the sweetest child."
 
Flora may have been born with Down Syndrome, as well as a hole in her heart, but she isn't labeled by those conditions.
 
"We love her for her uniqueness, the little ways she communicates and that we communicate to her," Ali said. "We think that makes her even more amazing."
 
Flora, who loves books, drawing and music, will receive various types of therapy to honor that uniqueness, her mother said.
 
Poppy, who spent the first seven months of her life as an observer to her big sister's sickness - sleeping in a cot with her mom and restricted much of the time from getting down on the floor and playing as babies do - is currently into climbing; constantly changing and growing. 
 
It's all part of the journey, said Ali, who is grateful to be back in the mountains of Montana; finally beginning to make a life there. 
 
She said she didn't really plan on writing a book, but she's glad she did and hopes it might help other families enduring the unimaginable. 
 
"I've done ink drawings for 20 years and I knew we were going to be in the hospital for a long time," she said. "So I thought I'd commit myself to doing art, prayer and  yoga. It just evolved into something I wasn't planning on."
 
But, she wasn't planning on having a Down Syndrome child either. And that has turned out to be an amazing blessing. It's just another example of how reacting to a situation makes all the difference in the world.
 
"We were very fortunate in Charleston, where we had a very nice and sensitive diagnosis," she said. "The nurse and all of the medical staff was very congratulatory and still made it a good birth process. I will say as an advocate and hope that any delivery nurses and doctors out there ever involved in a birth of a child with a diagnosis not say they are sorry to a parent or make it a bad thing. I've talked to so many mothers who didn't have a good experience."
 
Ali was born and raised in Clarksburg, attended Washington Irving and graduated from Robert C. Byrd High School in 1996. She attended WVU, earning a bachelor's degree in art history. The Georges owned and operated a farm/vineyard in Roane County before moving out west. 
 
"My home will forever be Clarksburg, West Virginia," Ali said. "There's no better place and no better people than those people in Harrison County."
 
The George family has created "Go4Flo," an online campaign to promote awareness of just how important it is to donate blood. 
 
"We've had a few big blood drives in Harrison County and all over the country in honor of Flo," Ali said. "One adult donation helps three little ones going through treatment. We've had over 300 people donate blood and many have made it a regular practice."
 
Learn more about the campaign and purchase a copy of "To Go With Flo" at www.togowithflo.com.
 
Editor's Note: Thank you Mary Randolph for reaching out to me and telling me about this wonderful, courageous family and to Ali's mom Sandra Iaquinta for bringing me a copy of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm forever inspired by your story, Ali, Bryan, Flora and Poppy. My prayers for you all as you continue your journey. 

 



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