PLAYING FOR HIM: Sem’s Kelsey Reznick Draws Inspiration From Older Brother
KINGSTON — Kelsey Reznick learned field hockey from some of the sport’s greatest minds, turning that into an All-American high school career.
In the classroom, Reznick favors math and science and she is a dean’s list mainstay at a private school renowned for its academics.
So, on the surface, Duke University knows what it’s getting with Reznick.
Then comes the college admission essay, where Reznick opens up about an unlikely source who’s been one of her greatest teachers in life: big brother Curtis Reznick.
“They want to know you as a person,” Kelsey said. “I think he describes me best — why I do what I do. That’s why I wrote about him.”
Curtis was Debi and Jason Reznick’s firstborn child, welcomed into the world June 4, 1999 at the former St. Joseph’s Hospital in Hazleton.
Curtis was crying, as all babies do, but his was particularly high-pitched and screechy — like a cat.
“That was the doctor’s first indication that there was an issue with him,” Debi recalled. “It was five minutes after he was born. They knew immediately.”
What followed were days of testing and blood work and, eventually, the diagnosis that Curtis had Cri du Chat syndrome — a genetic disease that translates in French to “cry of the cat.”
Genetically, Curtis is missing a part of chromosome 5. He has distinct facial features, like widely spaced eyes, and needs help with simple tasks not only functionally, but also mentally, behaviorally and emotionally.
Being such a rare disease — figures vary from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 50,000 being born with it — there was limited information available on Cri du Chat, which sent the new parents to the Internet where they read heartbreaking reports.
“When we first started searching online, a lot of the information was, ‘Kids with this don’t live very long,’” Jason recalled. “Those first couple weeks, my God, we were expecting a very short life expectancy.”
Those fears were later dispelled by specialists and doctors. Curtis has no physiological problems.
However, a new fear occurred more than a year after Curtis’ birth, when Debi was again pregnant and doctors said it was a possibility the next child could also be born with Cri du Chat.
“They asked us if we wanted a genetic test and we said no,” Jason recalled. “It wouldn’t change our decision.”
Debi and Jason held their breath, waiting to hear the first cries of their new baby.
“We knew what (Cri du Chat) sounded like,” Jason said, “and she came out screaming like a loud, regular baby. So we knew everything was OK.”
That new baby was Kelsey, who immediately gravitated toward playing sports and dancing.
Curtis would sometimes come along, too, but then and still today, he has trouble tolerating long trips and long events.
The situation has often led to one parent going on road trips with Kelsey, while the other stays home with Curtis.
“Kelsey grew up with him and she doesn’t know anything else,” Jason said. “She was the younger one and she knew her older brother had challenges. She grew up with it and she was empathetic right from the get go.”
Some strangers on the street, however, were not so understanding.
When the family would be together, Kelsey found herself confused at the looks or stares they’d sometimes be given.
That confusion later turned into sadness and anger.
“If people just walk by, they don’t really understand,” Kelsey said. “But if they know him, if they come over and say hi — he loves to give people hugs and he’s a super heartwarming person to be around. I think people with disabilities are really misunderstood. People think they’re different than other kids and other adults, but really, they’re the same. Just because they function differently or can’t do some things that we can do, they’re still the same on the inside. They’re really caring and loving and super kind.”
Curtis loves balloons and looking at photographs. His favorite television show is “Wheel of Fortune.”
Although he cannot communicate verbally, he knows some sign language — yes, no, more and thank you are some of the phrases — and he shows his affection through hugs and kisses.
Curtis is a graduate of Hazleton Area’s special education program, but his sports allegiances lie with Wyoming Seminary’s field hockey team.
While he’s unable to truly follow the action, Curtis does understand when Kelsey’s on the field and he cheers her on by smiling and clapping, even letting out some yells, too.
“All of her teammates know him,” Debi said. “A lot of the families and Sem parents know him and love him and high-five him. It’s always, ‘Where’s my buddy?’ if he’s not at the game.”
A natural athlete and gifted student, Kelsey has remained grounded because of Curtis’ challenges, which have given her perspective and kept her ego in check as she’s become one of the nation’s top high school players.
Even as she traveled the United States and internationally with Team USA’s junior squads, Kelsey called home — whether it be her parents or family or Alice Floyd, the home health aide — and kept in touch with big brother via FaceTime.
“They’ll put him on the phone and he’ll be smiling,” Kelsey said. “It’s just nice to see him when I’m gone for long periods of time because I’m not really used to that — I’m seeing him every day.”
Next year, the Reznick family, of Drums, will go through a big change when Kelsey plays field hockey and attends school 500 miles south at Duke.
But, she’ll be taking with her a life’s worth of lessons.
Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Smile in the face of challenges.
Appreciate the little things.
Treat others with kindness and respect and patience.
Kelsey learned all that from her parents and, of course, Curtis.
“It took a lot of learning and loving and figuring out,” Debi said of raising Curtis. “There’s still days that he’ll teach us something new.”
Kelsey added: “Just because he can’t do some things that other people can, I think that’s really, really pushed me in academics and athletics to push myself because he can’t.
“I kind of play for both of us.”
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