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Down syndrome couple celebrate love despite challenges

Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn on their wedding day in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. [Photo provided]
Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn on their wedding day in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. [Photo provided]

Love does not count chromosomes. It also is a feeling that all people enact, including those with Down syndrome.

People who are born with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome, but that does not limit their ability to experience a full range of emotions and have meaningful relationships. They also maintain long lasting relationships, date and get married.

Heather Hancock-Blackburn, 36, and Craig Blackburn, 40, have been together for more than 15 years and married for almost four of those years. They are the true definition of love and what it means to be in a committed relationship. This Valentine’s Day, they will be together to celebrate the day, something they don’t get to do often.

Hancock-Blackburn, a woman who happens to have Down syndrome, has been married to the love of her life, Craig, for almost four years. Blackburn, who lives in New Orleans also has Down syndrome and lives independently working as the equipment manager for the NBA Pelicans team. Hancock-Blackburn is an administrative assistant at the Oklahoma Department for Special Education. She also serves on the board of directors at the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma.

'You had me at hello'

The couple's love story began in 2004 at the National Down Syndrome Convention, which was held in St. Louis. The two were introduced by a family friend, who described the encounter as, “love at first sight.” The two went on their first date during the conference and shared their first kiss. Hancock-Blackburn recalls, “I just knew he was the person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life.” Since she is from Oklahoma City and he is from New Orleans, they exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch.

In spring 2005, Blackburn made his first trip to Oklahoma City to attend her junior prom, where they danced the night away. The couple stayed in touch and reunited every year at the National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention. Over the years, their connection grew stronger, and they fell madly in love. He proposed to her at the NDSC convention in Kansas City in 2007.

“He took me out for a romantic candlelit dinner. At one point he left to go to the restroom, and people from Down Syndrome Association of Greater New Orleans and the Down Syndrome Association of Central Oklahoma surrounded our table. When he came back, he got down on one knee. He said, ‘You had me at hello’ and then asked me to marry him. I was so nervous, and I began tearing up because of how much I loved him,” Hancock-Blackburn said.

After a long engagement, the couple married in June 2016 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Their plan was to move in together but are currently unable to do so without losing their total disability benefits.

According to the National Down Syndrome Society, current legislation states that individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability who wish to create one household have unique personal care needs, medical expenses, job supports and other supportive service that allow them to function independently. Most adults with Down syndrome cannot marry without losing those necessities that allow them to function independently. This means one of them would lose their full Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income if they combined households.

As a result, the couple must live separately and stay connected through daily calls on FaceTime. They travel to see each other frequently and reunite every year at the National Down Syndrome Convention and on special occasions like anniversaries and special holidays.

On Friday, Hancock-Blackburn went to New Orleans so she and her husband could celebrate Valentine’s Day this week. He plans to take her to a Celine Dion concert and the New Orleans Pelicans vs. Oklahoma City Thunder basketball game during her visit.

“I’m most excited to actually be there with him. I still get butterflies inside my stomach when he does special things for me. I am so thankful to have him in my life. I think he is the most wonderful caring husband. I will always love him deeply in my heart,” Hancock-Blackburn said.

“I love the way he makes me giggle and laugh. He is so romantic, and he treats me well. Sometimes we have our moments, but we work it out. I would never ask for a better husband. I can keep falling in love with him! I love Craig so much!”

On Capitol Hill

Currently, federal legislation in in the works to support individuals with developmental disabilities, like Heather Hancock-Blackburn and Craig Blackburn, who wish to get married and join households.

The Marriage Access for People with Special Abilities (MAPSA) Act clarifies that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability (ID/DD) will not be affected by marital status. When determining SSI benefits for an individual with ID/DD, only their income and resources will be reviewed, and will not include those of their spouse.

For more information, go to https://www.ndss.org/advocate/national-advocacy-public-policy.

Related Photos
<strong>Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn in Phoenix, AR during the 2015 National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention. [Photo provided]</strong>

Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn in Phoenix, AR during the 2015 National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention. [Photo provided]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-fedcd73cf070bf6c760446321d5fd165.jpg" alt="Photo - Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn in Phoenix, AR during the 2015 National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention. [Photo provided] " title=" Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn in Phoenix, AR during the 2015 National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention. [Photo provided] "><figcaption> Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn in Phoenix, AR during the 2015 National Down Syndrome Congress Annual Convention. [Photo provided] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-bee37333590dd489d98af8cbb361d9c4.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b712f9dc1f8326fd199a56dcdeb7f5a7.jpg" alt="Photo - Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn on their wedding day in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. [Photo provided] " title=" Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn on their wedding day in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. [Photo provided] "><figcaption> Craig Blackburn and Heather Hancock-Blackburn on their wedding day in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. [Photo provided] </figcaption></figure>
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