Making connections through the Internet

Tuesday, April 6, 2004

I love the Internet. Technology and I sometimes don't get along, but the Internet, in my opinion, is one of the absolute best inventions ever.

The best thing about the Internet is that it connects you to people. In one night, I can talk to my father who lives in Jackson, my best friend who lives across town and my cousin who lives in New York. I love that. Then of course, I spend about an hour on something called the VATER board.

This message forum is run by an organization called the VATER Connection. It provides support for families affected by VATER Syndrome, a series of birth defects. Each letter stands for something: V-- vertebrae defects, A -- anal defects, T/E -- tracheal and esophagus problems, and R stands for both Renal and Radial (kidney and thumb abnormalities).

How do I know this? I have VATER Syndrome. Through this board, I have met people like myself, and I think I've learned to deal with my condition a lot better.

When I log onto the board, I get excited. Sometimes I have messages waiting for me in my inbox, which I always go to first. After that's taken care of, I read the most recent messages on the board. Sometimes I reply, sometimes I don't -- it all depends on what the post is about. In one session, I read about everything, from dealing with swallowing issues to hearing about some VATER children's most recent doctor appointments, from heart specialists to bone specialists. The entire reason the board exists is for VATER children and their families to have a place to both give and get support and advice. Every time people ask me questions about the condition, I refer them to the board.

The most important thing about the VATER board is that I've made friends. Julie, for instance, lives in Australia. She has many of the same problems that I do and we correspond on a daily basis. Then there's Laura. She lives in New York state and her daughter has VATER. And there's Holly, who lives in Michigan and whose 8-month-old son is also afflicted with it. My newest friend is Jess, who lives in California. She's 17.

These people have made me realize that I am not alone. I have connected to people all over the world, and I have made some lifelong friends in the process. I intend to be a lifelong member of the VATER board. In 2005, I plan to go to Denver to attend the VATER Connection conference. It will be the first time I will ever see these people in person, but it doesn't matter … I know them already!

Emily Hendricks is a junior at Central High School in Cape Girardeau.

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