A Refuge from the Storm

New Leaf Clinic

 

words by: Reuben Shetler

____________________

 

The waves rocked the boat. Water sprayed into the air. The wind was whistling, shrieking, roaring around them.

The men hunkered down on the deck, shielding their faces from the foamy spray. “Help! Mercy!” They desperately steered the boat through the waves.

Then one of them thought of the man in the rear. He scrambled over the jumbled fishing nets and grabbed the sleeping man by the shoulder. The anxious man cried, “Master, we perish!”

Jesus stood up. He looked out over the seething waters and turbulent sky and held out his hand. “Peace! Be still,” Jesus said.

Immediately the waters were calm. The sky was silent, and the boat was on the other side. The storm was over—there was no more reason to fear.

Amish Country

Holmes County is one of the most beautiful places in the world. Farms dot the rolling hills, cows and horses graze in the fields and pastures, woodlands stretch across the peaceful horizon, and buggies and bicycles move leisurely along winding roads.

This is Amish Country. Holmes County is home to one of the largest Amish communities in the world. More than 37,000 Amish people live here, from old men with bald heads and white beards to barefoot children splashing in the creeks. 

Mt. Eaton is in the heart of it all. With several stores, a gas station, a school, and offering pretty much any commodity that makes living in a small village pleasurable, Mt. Eaton is the epitome of an Amish town.

If you visit Mt. Eaton, you may come across a stately new building on one of the back streets. A sign out front proclaims, “New Leaf Center.” The door to the entrance may swing open, revealing a young Amish family stepping outside. What are they doing here? What is “New Leaf Center?”

New Leaf Center is a clinic for children with special needs formed by Dr. Olivia Wenger and others in January 2013 with a mission of striving to “improve the quality of life for people with special needs caused by inherited disorders through cost-effective medical care, education, research, and advocacy.” 

So why the name “New Leaf?” The moniker was given to the clinic by a mother of a child with special needs. A new leaf represents hope. It represents a fresh start. It even hints at cost savings. It just sounds so right.

The month following the clinic’s founding, Dr. Wenger’s fourth child was born, but being a new mom didn’t stop her from serving as the clinic’s pediatrician. Though operating with minimal time and space, the Center was a success from the start. But as more and more Amish families became aware of what it had to offer, New Leaf developed a problem. It needed more help. The Center was in need of another doctor. So, in 2019, New Leaf Clinic hired Dr. Ethan Scott as the second full-time doctor at the clinic.

Since the clinic opened, 1,200 people have been served by New Leaf. Currently, about 750 people with special needs are active patients. After an initial visit, patients return for illness, developmental checkups, medications, or other needs related to their disorder. The only care New Leaf doesn’t provide is well-childcare, meaning they don’t do your typical doctor visits for otherwise healthy children.

Facing the Storms

Imagine you are a young Amish mother. You have a newborn baby, and that baby is sick. You take the baby to numerous doctors, but no one has any answers. “Test for this,” they say. “Check for that,” they recommend. You are tired, overwhelmed, frustrated. You are heartbroken from seeing your baby suffer. The storms of life are threatening to capsize your boat. You long to hear the words, “Peace! Be still.”

Willis and Amanda Weaver were such a couple. In February of 2021, their daughter Deborah was born. Deborah had poor muscle tone, no gag reflex, and couldn’t suckle. At birth, she was transferred to Akron Children’s Hospital. The storm had begun for the Weavers.

At one-month-old, Deborah was diagnosed with Prader-Willi. This is a very rare genetic condition. Prader-Willi is an eating disorder that affects a child’s ability to develop normally. As a result, Deborah, the youngest of the family’s seven children, needed a feeding tube and a ton of time and attention. 

The Weavers were discouraged. The toll of the stress and expenses was wearing down on them. Then one day, someone made a suggestion to Amanda.

“You should try New Leaf Center.” This was news to them. A center for children with special needs in Mt. Eaton? It sounded too good to be true. But Amanda gave the Center a call and scheduled the first appointment. 

“We went in there and met with Dr. Ethan Scott,” Amanda says. “And we were so very well pleased with him. Dr. Scott took the time to listen to us. He was not in a hurry. He gave information about Prader-Willi and offered to help obtain medications and hormones Deborah needs for her brain development. I think we were in there for 21/2 hours! Not once did Dr. Scott push us along. He was so down to earth. And the best part was, he had a connection directly with Akron Children’s! We didn’t have to spend a lot of time on paperwork and medical records. Because New Leaf is affiliated with Akron Children’s, Dr. Scott had all our information with several clicks on his computer.”

The Weavers walked away from that first appointment feeling like the waves were calming down. The peace of Jesus could be felt at the New Leaf Center. And although being there had been helpful, the benefits didn’t stop there.

Over the next several weeks, Deborah was sick from time to time. Amanda would call New Leaf, and almost always, either Dr. Scott or Dr. Olivia Wenger were available. Instead of having to go to the ER, Amanda could figure out what to do by talking to the doctors on the phone. New Leaf would even offer to come out to their home, if necessary.

“To me, having that assurance means all the world,” Amanda says. “I know I can call, and even if it is after hours, someone will be there. If I do need to go there, it’s local, and I don’t have far to go. And if needed, they will come to us. New Leaf has offered to help us monitor Deborah as she grows up and assist with her development however they can.

“I would advise anyone with a genetic disorder to definitely go to New Leaf.”

Meet Ethan

On a quiet summer day in Holmes County, a car creeps slowly down a dirt road. It crests a wooded hill and descends into a valley dominated by the huge red barn of an Amish farm. Behind the barn, a black horse munches grass. “Look, Daddy! Another one!” The little girl in the backseat points out the window. The lady in the passenger seat smiles at her husband, driving. “How many is that, honey? Are you still keeping track?”

Dr. Ethan Scott chuckles. “If I counted right, that’s the twenty-sixth horse we’ve seen. And we’ve only been driving for half an hour!”

Ethan’s family loves to travel Amish Country. In fact, Ethan loves EVERYTHING about Amish Country. The newest doctor at New Leaf Center, Ethan has fallen head over heels for the community. Was his decision to work for New Leaf the right one? Ethan has no doubt.

A graduate of Kent State University, Ethan received his medical doctorate from Northeast Ohio Medical University. Like founder Olivia Wenger, he completed his pediatric residency at Akron Children’s Hospital. Ethan was working at the hospital and occasionally seeing patients who went to New Leaf Center.

Ethan’s curiosity was piqued. What is New Leaf? So he did the best thing he knew to do. He hopped in the car and drove to Mt. Eaton.

“Ethan was an answer to prayer,” executive director Barb Reinford says. “We were busy at the Center, seeing people and taking care of all the follow-up. All of a sudden, this doctor from Akron pops in. He has questions for Olivia and me. At first, we weren’t sure what to think. But as Ethan came around more and more, we realized what an amazing opportunity God was giving us.”

Indeed, God had provided another method to help quiet the storms. Ethan Scott offered new expertise for New Leaf Center. He spent three months going in and out the door, then was hired in July 2019. 

“Working at New Leaf is a unique intersection of culture and science,” Ethan says. “This opportunity has given me the ability to practice a more old-fashioned version of medicine. I can be more creative than at an academic hospital. There’s no script of what you have to do. You can take time to get to know people and truly understand their conditions. The Amish people are so friendly and refreshing. If they do not agree with what I recommend, they still are respectful and courteous. I’ve had so many meaningful conversations, with both my patients, and the staff at the Center. Barb, Olivia, and the rest of the employees are all awesome. Truly, God has led me here, and I don’t wish to be anywhere else.”

That’s the reason that, even when he’s not working, you just might find Ethan Scott traveling the Holmes County countryside. “I love it all. I spend all the time in the area that I can: meeting people, counting horses, getting chased by dogs; it’s all a part of serving the Plain community.”

The Woman Who Shook the World

There are many people in this world who just take life as it comes to them. Then there are people who look life in the eye, determined to make a difference. These people are the kind who leave a lasting legacy.

Olivia Wenger is one of these people. Quiet and unassuming, gentle and kind, Olivia is hardly the type of person you would think would shake the world. But shake the world she has—especially the world of Holmes County.

Olivia Wenger is the sole reason New Leaf Center exists. And she is one of the reasons it continues to be successful. She has yet to have a patient who has not fallen in love with her caring, thoughtful manner.

Olivia grew up in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. She was familiar with the Plain community as a child. After completing school at Elizabethtown College, getting her medical doctorate from Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and completing a pediatric residency at Akron Children’s Hospital, Olivia began her journey as a doctor by observing at a clinic for children with special needs in Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Working with genetic disorders among the Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonites ignited a fire in Olivia’s heart. She grew to love her job and her people.

After two years in PA, Olivia returned to Akron Children’s to serve as a general pediatrician. But she couldn’t forget her work at the clinic in Pennsylvania. Olivia was aware that Akron was just far enough away for the Amish in Holmes County that it was inconvenient for the Amish to get to the hospital. Instead of traveling over an hour for medical care, why couldn’t there be a clinic located right in the heart of Ohio Amish Country? Olivia decided to make that clinic happen.

There’s an Amish man who lives in Berlin, Ohio, who also is the type to leave a legacy. This man, Atlee Raber, was moved by the hand of God to connect with Olivia Wenger. Atlee had heard through some local connections about the clinic that Olivia was proposing.

“There are families with children needing special care all their life. It is our responsibility to do what we can to support them,” Atlee says. So Atlee called Olivia, and that phone call forever changed the future of local Amish children with special needs.

 A Team Effort

When Atlee Raber connected with Olivia Wenger about establishing the Center, he knew one thing was certain: getting the clinic off the ground would have to be a joint effort. Olivia could be the doctor, but somebody was going to have to be the hands and voice of the Amish community. 

Thus, several boards were formed. Atlee helped establish an Amish bishop advisory committee to provide a voice for the Amish as the Center moved forward. He also helped put a governance board into place. This governance board takes care of assisting New Leaf in making decisions and raising funds for the Center.

James Troyer of Baltic, Ohio, is on the governance board. “The board is the link between the Center and the community,” James says. The catalyst of James’s involvement was his son Micah, who was born with a translocated chromosome.

Because of the translocation between his chromosomes 9 and 15, Micah is physically and mentally disabled. He’s a one-year-old in a seventeen-year-old body. Micah is in a wheelchair and cannot talk. His lower body is very weak, but his upper body is stronger, and he can wheel himself around. 

“Micah was born in Orrville and immediately transferred to Akron Children’s Hospital,” James relates. “You can imagine how scary this was for a young couple like us.”

The Troyers were pleased with Akron Children’s, but when they met Olivia Wenger, the next step was a no-brainer. “We went to New Leaf as soon as the Center was started,” the Troyers say. “The Center is very homey and low-key. Olivia goes the extra mile to spend time with you. It’s also cost-efficient. A test that would cost $1,000 at a hospital might cost only $100 at the clinic. Also, New Leaf will not require you to take more tests than necessary. They are very understanding of your financial needs. They will ask before they do a test.”

“All-in-all, Micah is easy to care for,” the Troyers say. “He has an easy-going personality. He eats by himself but does also use a tube. New Leaf arranged the surgery to put the tube in. The biggest issue for Micah is he doesn’t like crowds. If we’re in public, he becomes agitated and wants to go home. He loves to travel but just isn’t comfortable when we get there.”

How does a family cope with the challenges of caring for someone so dependent? “Yes, there are sacrifices,” James confesses. “But the blessings are bigger than the challenges. Our other children have learned things from Micah they never would’ve learned otherwise.”

“Micah can be so much fun,” Mandy adds. “He loves to shower. He has a hand-held shower he uses, and he’d spend all evening in there if we’d let him.”

“Having a child with special needs can be hard to accept,” the Troyers admit. “But still, we wouldn’t trade it for anything. With God’s help, we don’t have to see it as a burden. Micah is a blessing.”

Just as James labors to help New Leaf, so the Center labors for him and his family. Dr. Scott helps with Micah’s care and provides medications for him. “Micah’s condition is not treatable,” James says. “But New Leaf will do everything they can to make his life more comfortable. Not only that, but they ease the burden for my wife as well.”

Mandy agrees. “I used to spend hours on the phone making arrangements with all the various specialists at the hospital. Now New Leaf makes those arrangements for me. The care and savings are a huge relief to a Mom with specific needs, and that is priceless.”

The Sum of the Matter

New Leaf Center currently has nine staff members; two pediatricians, Olivia Wenger and Ethan Scott; and they have a brand new facility. New Leaf also hosts specialty clinics, where specialists from Akron Children’s and Cleveland Clinic come to the Center to meet with families to offer expert advice, treatment, and research. The clinics are for cardiology, pulmonology (cystic fibrosis), neurology, gastroenterology (glycogen storage disease), and vision. This is a wonderful opportunity for Amish families with limited transportation to get information from an expert.

Patients fund only about 15% of New Leaf’s cost of operation. The community provides the other 85% through church and business donations, the annual benefit dinner, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of those who care. In this way, the burden truly is shared among the people.

The Amish community needs to know New Leaf is where to start. New Leaf knows what conditions to look for. There are some conditions within the community that will not be picked up on a newborn screening. New Leaf could even potentially offer testing for young couples if that is what the community wants. New Leaf wants to get involved. They want to help. They want to be there.

There Is Hope

There is so much unnecessary worry that can be eliminated by going to the right source. When the wind and the waters were unruly, the disciples had only to turn to Jesus. He was the one who stilled the storm.

Jesus can also bring peace to those who struggle with special needs. New Leaf Center is the avenue God established to serve those in Wayne and Holmes County and the surrounding vicinity. When the storm is at its strongest, when the winds are wild and unrelenting, when you are certain there is no escape, remember there is hope; there are people who will care.

 

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For More Information:

New Leaf Center

16014 E. Chestnut St.  /  P.O. Box 336

Mt Eaton, OH 44659  /  330-359-9888

www.newleafclinic.org

E-mail: info@newleafclinic.org

 

 

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Reuben Shetler lives in Walnut Creek, Ohio, and is a member of the Old Order Amish Church. He has been blessed with a wife and three children. Reuben strives to preserve the culture and customs of the Amish church in every way he can. Reuben has numerous hobbies, with writing at the top of the list. You might also find him birdwatching in the spring, gardening and beekeeping in the summer, hunting in the fall, and making firewood in the winter. Reuben loves books, home cooking, books, anything outdoors, family time, and books. Reuben sees life as a continuous succession of 24-hour adventures. (Getting some sleep is exciting too, right?) He seeks to glorify God in all that he does, and bring honor to His name.

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