FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When Arlene Lakin gave birth to her third child in 1984, it seemed it was her easiest pregnancy of all.
"Even labor was quick and early," she said.
But shortly after the birth, everything changed.
Her son Douglas underwent two emergency surgeries and spent three months in the neonatal intensive care unit.
"When we finally brought him home, we thought Douglas was recuperating from multiple surgeries," she said. "And then, over time, we slowly discovered he was deaf, blind and profoundly mentally challenged."
After numerous medical crises, Lakin and her husband realized Douglas needed more specialized care than they could provide and ultimately placed him at the Ann Storck Center in Fort Lauderdale, where he still lives today.
"My son's situation was the reason I decided to go to law school when I was 40 and then three years later, after graduation, I got together with a handful of families at my home and we formed Florida's Voice On Developmental Disabilities," she said.
The statewide non-profit organization is run solely by volunteers who are focused on being advocates for others dealing with developmental disabilities by helping them navigate the system and find resources.
"We want what your family wants for your family member," Lakin said.
On Thursday and Friday, Florida's Voice is hosting its annual education conference at the Renaissance Boca Raton Hotel.
"With over 50 professionals speaking, we are covering a wide array of topics," Lakin said.
For more information, visit www.floridasvoice.org.