Center Snapshot: Jennifer Trinkle
Image above: At NASA Langley, Jennifer Trinkle supports scientific research. Away from the center, she works to raise money for research into the care and cure of Angelman Syndrome. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
By: Jennifer Lapan
Jennifer Trinkle's days are busy, to say the least.
One moment she is making travel arrangements for scientists doing a field research campaign, and the next she is walking alongside Lark, her son's therapy horse.
Somehow, Trinkle always manages to find balance between her two jobs -- an administrative analyst for employees in the Science Directorate and a mom to her special-needs son.
Trinkle always knew she wanted to be in a support position, and with the encouragement of her husband and mom, she went to Thomas Nelson Community College and became a co-op at Langley in 1995. In 2006, she joined the Science Directorate, where she handles administrative support for the Climate Science Branch.
"Knowing that I'm helping everyone else accomplish their goals makes me feel like I have a part in the projects and mission," Trinkle said.
At home, Trinkle and her husband spend a lot of time helping their son, Dylan, who has a rare neuro-genetic disorder called Angelman Syndrome.
Angelman Syndrome is a chromosomal abnormality that affects 1 in 15,000 people (including actor Colin Farrell's son). The deletion of a certain chromosome, which comes from the maternal side, affects brain function and causes seizures. This means Dylan has delayed cognitive and speech skills and also has abnormal sleep cycle, which, of course, affects Trinkle's sleep.
"He doesn't always sleep well. I've walked in to work sometimes and didn't know how I was walking!" Trinkle said.
Right now, Dylan, who will be 4 years old on April 15, is enrolled in physical therapy, speech therapy, a special education preschool and this summer he will get occupational therapy. Perhaps the most enjoyable therapy in which Dylan participates is therapeutic horse riding.
"Studies show there is a bond between horses and people that is incredibly therapeutic," said Trinkle. "When Dylan rides he has people on all sides of him, including his speech therapist, who encourages him to express himself. Horse therapy works on core strength with words."
Dylan hasn't begun speaking, but Trinkle is working on sign language with him. Just recently he learned his first sign -- "more."
"He did it on his own with no help. After months of work, it's like a light went off, and he does it all the time now," Trinkle said.
Trinkle says that she and her husband didn't know Dylan had any issues until he was about 15 months.
"We didn't have another child to compare him to, so we didn't know," Trinkle said. "We are glad we found out about his Angelman Syndrome early though. Catching it early allows you to start therapies while they are young and further their development."
Trinkle said that Dylan loves being outdoors, and the family likes to travel. This past summer they took a family vacation to Salt Lake City to see local canyons and to participate in a national conference that brings Angelman Syndrome families together.
Every year in May, the Trinkles also participate in a national walk to raise money for research for Angelman Syndrome.
"This year the walk is on May 19, and it will be our third year doing it. The walk raised over a million dollars last year, and they are really making a lot of headway with research," Trinkle said.
With therapy, Trinkle said Dylan is now walking and he hasn't had a seizure in over a year.
"You have hopes and dreams for a child and, despite all of his challenges, Dylan truly is a blessing. He has totally changed my life, and he makes you realize what is important," she said.
While Trinkle provides logistical assistance to SD employees, she explains they too provide her with support. With all of Dylan's appointments and therapies, Trinkle must adjust her work schedule quite often.
"If work wasn't flexible, it just wouldn't be possible to balance everything," she said. "I am so thankful everyone in the Science Directorate is so supportive...they have always told me family comes first."
For more information on Angelman Syndrome, visit:
The Researcher News
NASA Langley Research Center
Editor & Curator: Denise Lineberry
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor & Responsible NASA Official: Rob Wyman