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Full heart, full house equal joy for Mendon woman with 9 disabled kids

May 2nd, 2012 Posted in Arts and Life

By Rebecca Holliday

MENDON—Greta Anderson-Davis lives in a 5,000-square-foot home with nine disabled children, none of them her own.

Anderson-Davis has managed to survive a soap opera-­worthy divorce, the death of a daughter, eight months in an apartment with nine disabled children, and a grueling night-school program—and come out with her chin up. Her resilience through the hard times, ability to laugh at the weird times, and openness to the good times make it easy to understand why she has had so much success in her vibrant life.

Anderson-Davis spent most of her life in California. She grew up in a conservative family. “Greta was very sheltered,” says friend Brittany Orton.

Her mother was manic-depressive and bipolar, and didn’t like her job, Anderson-Davis said. “I was very enabling as a child,” she says. “I told my mother, ‘You can lie in bed and read your romance novels.’”

The 13-year-old did all of the necessary research and eventually the family got its first foster child, a “medically delicate” little boy, and Anderson-Davis spent much of her time taking care of him. He’s now a 30-year-old truck driver.

Even as a teenager, Anderson-Davis says she found working with disabled children rewarding. Her family continued to take in disabled foster kids. “That’s how I discovered my niche in life for special needs children,” she says.

She eventually went to college, got a psychiatric technician license, and worked at a Southern California hospital until she was 35. “That’s when I opened up my own home for disabled children,” she said. She would take care of kids coming through the foster care system and, if their parental rights were terminated, she adopted them herself.

Today, seven of the nine kids she has adopted have autism. “Autistic children are just a trip,” she says. “I’ve got the full-blown autistic where they don’t look you in the face, then there’s Lyndsey, who is always wearing her Mighty Ducks jersey and always waving at people.”

Two years ago, Davis was living in a three-bedroom apartment with nine disabled children and nine cats. She and her kids now reside in a large Mendon.

In 2010, she started night school while trying to keep the kids on a schedule and keep things as consistent as possible. “It was so chaotic, I was exhausted,” she remembers.

These days, Anderson-Davis has found herself to be a somewhat distinguished character around the valley. “I don’t know how people know me so well. They’re like, ‘Oh, You’re Greta!’ and I say, ‘Uh, hi?’”

Patty Bigelow, PTA president at Mountainside Elementary, was one of those who put a name to a face.

Every year, Davis makes a “generous donation” to the PTA, so her name comes up from time to time, Bigalow said.

“I don’t like to be involved in fundraisers because I don’t have time for it,” she says matter-of-factly. Bigelow finally met Anderson-Davis one night at a Utah State Hockey game. She’s hard to miss, since she brings the entire family out to the rink on game nights.

In California, Anderson-Davis and her brood frequently attended games at the Arrowhead Pond at Anaheim. “We had season tickets to the Anaheim ducks, when they won the Stanley cup and everything,” she said. “When we got out here we were going through hockey withdrawal.”

Orton says the family’s obsession with hockey is obvious. “Greta is very passionate about hockey,” she said. “You walk in her house when she’s all alone cleaning and every TV has hockey games, highlights, and interviews going on.”

Orton was dating one of the USU hockey players, Tyler Mistelbacher, who Anderson-Davis took into her home after Bigelow mentioned one night that some of the players needed a place to stay. “If you’ve got someone you need a house for, just let me know,” Anderson-Davis told her.

Izzy, Anderson-Davis’s terminally ill 7-year-old, sits in her wheelchair at the hockey games, cozy under a blanket. “She loves the movement of the hockey team and the noise of the crowd,” says Bigelow.

Davis has taken care of Izzy since she was 2. Her mother was a meth addict and, as a result, Izzy has a lot of medical problems. Developmentally, Anderson-Davis says, Izzy is between 2 months and 6 months old.

“She’s like a baby,” she said. “She doesn’t hold anything in her hands, except her hair when she’s trying to pull it out.”

That makes Orton laugh. “Greta loves all of her children so much—her baby especially!” she said. “She will straight up tell you that Izzy, the baby, is her favorite.”

“I can’t imagine what it must be like,” says Bigelow, who has two young boys of her own. “She lives in the moment with Izzy. The stress that would cause a mother is infinite.”

Five times this year, Izzy has been LifeLighted by helicopter to Salt Lake hospitals, and rushed to the emergency room twice. “Greta spent most of this year in the hospital with Izzy, and she was heartbroken, but never gave up hope,” Bigelow said. “She is still willing to give Izzy a great life and love her unconditionally, even knowing that heartbreak is sure to follow.”

Three years ago, Anderson-Davis experienced that heartbreak when one of her adopted daughters died. “When we adopted Tanya, we knew she had the terminal brain disease,” said Anderson-Davis, who adopted her when she was 8. Tanya died when she was 18, she said, “so she had a really good life.”

It takes a lot to support this family, both emotionally and financially. Anderson-Davis’s grandfather left her an inheritance when he died, and she has invested it well, she says.

She also owns real estate in California and Utah, and has her own company, Supported Living, which finds roommates for mentally disabled adults. The agency takes “someone neurologically typical, someone who makes good choices” and pays them a stipend to live with the mentally disabled individual, she said.

Davis credits much of her prosperity to “just my smart financial choices I guess,” and laughs.

Things aren’t always plain and simple. This month, Anderson-Davis spent one weekend repainting the kids’ bedrooms after one of them peeled the paint off the walls, and had to spend $2,000 to fix two windows. “My kids have severe behavioral issues. Jessica, she gets mad at me, or mad at Tyler. The other day she picked up a handful of rocks from the fire pit and she threw them and broke the windows,” she says calmly. “Those things happen around here.”

Mistelbacher, the Aggie hockey player, earns his keep in the Anderson-Davis household by helping her with the kids. “I’m like a father,” he laughs. He wakes up around 5 a.m. and gets the kids ready for school, and then works on his own studies at USU.

At 3 p.m., he gets them from the bus, gives them a snack, does laundry and cleans. They go to bed around 6 or 7 p.m., and he’s usually off by 8. All the children have their own bedroom with a television.

People who know her say they are amazed at how committed Anderson-Davis is to her family. “Her kids are her everything, and she treats them like gold!” Orton says. “She’s by far the most giving and selfless person I know on this planet, hands down.”

Despite their age difference—Orton is 20 and Anderson-Davis is 52—Orton says Anderson-Davis is her best friend. “She just knows everything and she relates to me in so many different ways,” she said. “She knows the solution to all my problems.”

Anderson-Davis graduates next month from Stevens-Henager College. Her next project is to open a general store, like the one in Little House on the Prairie. When asked if she’ll ever move her family again, Davis said, “I love Utah. I’m staying here forever.”

TP

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