Kaletka family


Cheryl Heidama

Picture of Alyssa Kaletka hugging a girl at Step Up for Down Syndrome event

Mieke Vanderkolk

Kaletka Family

   A thump, then sirens. Everyone in the house knew what that meant. Hours later, Ashleigh awakes in the hospital. This was a common experience for Ashleigh Ellyn Kaletka, who was diagnosed with a rare seizure disorder as a child. Now, years later, her seizures have stopped. She owes it all to FellInLove Farm.

   FellInLove Farm, now home of the Kaletkas, was bought in July 2010. Before the purchase, Ashleigh and Alyssa had been living in a subdivision. The farm has transformed into a ‘staycation’ for Kaletka daughters, Ashleigh Kaletka and Alyssa Kaletka, and an inclusive destination for individuals with cognitive impairments. Since the very first adaptive field trip in April 2012, FellInLove Farm has continued spreading awareness and providing individualized farm experiences, regardless of how hard it is. Ashleigh Kaletka, along with her younger sister Alyssa Kaletka, are two of the most vital assets to one of Holland’s most inclusive experiences. 


   Twenty seven seizures. That is twenty seven more than Cheryl Heidama Kaletka would ever imagine her first-born daughter going through. Fourteen of these seizures put Ashleigh in drug-induced comas in the ICU, often leaving her family and friends to wonder if she could make it again. “I played tug of war with angels each time! Not knowing if she could stay on earth or would be taken from us” said Cheryl, recalling the feeling that accompanied her with each hospital stay. Ashleigh’s seizures were persistent from December 1996 to July of 2010. Coincidentally, 2010 was the year the Kaletkas brought their first horses home, Penny and Gracie. The horses, along with the other animals, are one of the most beneficial remedies for Ashleigh’s seizures. Cheryl said, “When Ashleigh would not feel well when we moved here, she would go outside to a horse, typically our Friesian horse Gracie and throw her head into Gracie’s huge warm neck and her feeling of a seizure coming on would gradually pass”. Cheryl also believes that Ashleigh’s consistent and healthy routine is another contributor to solving her massive seizures, “Ashleigh’s important routine EACH day of taking care of animals provided biological consistency which I feel contributed also to her massive seizures resolving”. Regardless of why it is a miracle that Ashleigh’s seizures stopped.


   Alyssa was born with Down Syndrome and 5 life-threatening heart conditions. As a 9 month old, at 9 pounds, she had to have open heart surgery. Now she is 30 years old and has found her place. Throughout her life, she has gone unnoticed because of her limited speech, but at the farm, she is the expert. Alyssa sits at the registration table every day greeting guests. Both inside and outside the house her efforts to keep things tidy are very impressive. On weekdays it is not unusual for Alyssa to clean the entire barn. Along with farm chores, she makes sure to keep busy in the house by folding towels, putting stray items in their places, and doing tasks for other people. Most people don’t understand the importance Alyssa has to the farm, but without her help, FellInLove Farm would not be the place it is. 

   It is a sad reality that most kids with Down Syndrome get bullied. Unfortunately, Alyssa’s experience was not very different. Cheryl said, “when she went to play outside in our subdivision, [a] neighbor boy would say, ‘time for retard show’” and “Middle school girls stole from her and she could not tell us who did it”. Fortunately, since the creation of FellInLove Farm, Alyssa has connected with other adults that have Down Syndrome and other cognitive impairments.


   The term ‘disabled’ is a common and normalized term. Most people go their entire life thinking that it is an inclusive term, but when you look into the lives of people with impairments, it becomes clear that the term “disabled” is completely false. Even throughout her difficult life conditions and holdbacks, Ashleigh is one of the strongest people on the farm. Often she is tasked with moving 4 tortoises, the heaviest weighing 80 pounds. Most days Ashleigh and Alyssa must clean all 11 horse stalls, which does not even take into account the pasture cleaning and extra work that must be done, both daily and weekly. It would be frustrating to have to work extra hard to get to the same place your peers are, just to be called ‘DISabled’. This is the sole reason why FellInLove Farm chooses to use more inclusive and positive terms like cognitively impaired.

Ashleigh admires “Spirit of Esperanza”, the foal to her horse “Cupcake” (Lori Ann)