At 25 Years, Marriage Likely Among Longest Between Pair With Down Syndrome
Even as his dementia progressed, Paul Scharoun-DeForge was always able to remember his loving wife.
He died in March of complications from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, an illness more than half of people with Down syndrome experience once they hit their 50s or 60s. His love, Kris Scharoun-Deforge, also has Down syndrome — and at 25 years, their families believe she and Paul might’ve had one of the longest marriages of any couple also living with the condition.
When they were born, doctors warned that both of the children would struggle to live full lives and recommended they be put into institutions to help them better function and cope. But both sets of parents ignored the advice, allowing both Kris and Paul to grow up into amazing and functional people — who eventually crossed paths and fell in love.
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“They are role models for everybody who wants a good relationship,” Kris’ older sister, Susan Scharoun told The Washington Post. “They were a team: They deferred to each other and looked out for each other.”
Paul and Kris first met at a dance for people with disabilities in the 1980s and fell for each other quickly from there. The couple was married in 1995 after a five-year engagement — but their journey to the altar was not without challenges.
Because they both lived with Down syndrome, the New York couple was required to prove to the state that they were both consenting adults who understood the concept and commitment of marriage.
Scharoun said Kris and Paul were required to take tests that measured their sexual knowledge and awareness of intimacy in addition to attending classes at Planned Parenthood, designed to help them obtain the skills needed to live their lives to the fullest.
But even through the legal hurdles, Kris always knew that she wanted to be with Paul.
“He made me laugh,” she told The Post. “I looked into his eyes and saw my future, and that’s when I proposed to him. He said yes.”
At her bridal shower, Kris told friends and family one of the biggest reasons she fell for Paul was because he had Down syndrome too,
“I am perfectly fine — in, fact I like a man who is like me,” Kris’ sister recalled her saying.
After they married and combined their names, Kris and Paul moved in together in a state-supported apartment community for people with disabilities. They shared the master bedroom while an aide would sleep in a nearby room for when they required assistance.
But when Paul started exhibiting signs of dementia last year, he was forced to move into a separate residence for intensive nursing care. Kris, saddened by her husband’s departure, continued to meet with him for Sunday dinners.
And last year, when she was recovering from pneumonia at Upstate University Hospital, Paul surprised her with a special visit for their 25th anniversary. That day, they had their vows renewed at the chapel hospital.
Kris maintained that no matter how much his Alzheimer’s advanced, that Paul never stopped knowing who she was.
“When he would see Kris, he would just look at her, and you knew there was that recognition,” Scharoun said.
© 2019 New York Daily News
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