For help

Families affected by alcohol-related birth defects can get information and support from these organizations:
FAS Community Resource Center in Tucson, AZ.
Visit them online:
National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS), (800) 66-NOFAS.
Family Empowerment Network: Support for Families Affected by FAS/FAE. (800) 462-5254.
The Arc, (800) 252-9054.
Southern Arizona Online, a publication of the Tucson Citizen

A boy in a man's body


When not on a subduing medication, 20-year-old John Kellerman, who has fetal alcohol syndrome, easily bursts into laughter.

With a mischievous sparkle in his eye, the young man hops off the kitchen stool and dashes into the living room.
He pounds his fingers on the keys of the piano, exploding into peals of hilarious laughter at the racket made by notes crashing together.
He struts into the family room, collapsing on the couch next to his mom. He slumps in his seat, fidgeting.
Finally retreating to the quiet safety of his bedroom, the man snuggles into bed, wraps his arms around his favorite, worn teddy bear, and begins sucking his thumb.
This is the life of 20-year-old John Kellerman, without medication.
John has fetal alcohol syndrome. His birth mother was an alcoholic and drank heavily throughout her pregnancy.
The day John was born, his mother showed up at a Denver hospital drunk. When her water broke, the smell of alcohol permeated the delivery room.
"He was pickled in alcohol," said the woman who would later adopt him.
John, who was premature and weighed 2 1/2 pounds, was found to have FAS at birth. The alcohol caused heart defects, brain damage and vision problems.
When his biological mother was told he had problems, she wanted nothing to do with him.
But by some miracle, this fragile, helpless, brain-damaged baby happened into the home and heart of a true angel.
He was taken home from the hospital and later adopted by Theresa Kellerman, a foster mom who, with her husband, Bob, had cared for children with special needs.
The young woman didn't know how much John and his syndrome would change her life.
Kellerman, now 50, dedicates her days to giving John every opportunity to succeed, as well as helping other families understand and cope with the devastation brought on by prenatal alcohol exposure.
Kellerman, the mother of three, has raised John as a single mom since she and her husband divorced in 1984. She appreciates John for the young man that he is.
John has permanent brain damage. His IQ is 68, making him borderline retarded. Academically, he is at a fourth-grade level. Emotionally, he is 6 or 7. This is about as advanced as John will get.
"His brain has reached its capacity," Kellerman said. "When he's not on his medication, it's like he's drunk. He will live the rest of his life like this."
It's rare that John misses taking Ritalin. The medication helps him focus and keeps his emotions in control.
"I fought and fought against him being put on medication," Kellerman said. "It was a drug that got him into trouble in the first place, and I wanted to keep him drug-free."
But John's emotions became uncontrollable, and he was careening through life, riding on wild waves of hyperactivity. Kellerman finally agreed to put her son on Ritalin when he was 10. "It was like he sobered up. When it wears off, it's like watching him get drunk."
The first hour in the day, when his medication hasn't kicked in, can be the toughest, Kellerman said. "He can be immature and inconsiderate. He can say things he doesn't mean. I have to be careful not to take it personally.
"But the rest of the day, he's a pretty neat kid."
Kellerman's days are filled with John and his FAS.
"I don't do a whole lot else other than be his mom and his conscience and his judgment," Kellerman said. "I'm here for him."
John attends Howenstine Special Education School, where he learns job training and personal living skills. He can stay in school until he's 22.
John's memory is poor, and he has a hard time mastering basic skills.
"It took years and years and years for him to learn to tie his shoes," Kellerman said. "He has a really hard time with money. You can ask him four times how many quarters in a dollar, and you'll get a different answer every time. We'll work on it for days, and I'll think he has it, and then you'll ask again and he'll tell you 50 or 10 or three. He just doesn't remember."

Read the entire series on FAS from The Tucson Citizen
© 1999 Tucson Citizen

More information on FAS/FAE
Return to the FAS Community Resource Center