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Kahl twins head for for new transition

Harlan (left) and Andy Kahl prepare for their graduation from the Next Step program. After high school, the twins continued on in the transition program for students up to age 21. At graduation, they will receive their signed diplomas from East Ridge High School. (RiverTown Multimedia photo by John R. Russett)

Carrie Kahl wakes up around 6:15 a.m. nearly every day and goes downstairs to see her sons. Then, she waits.

At about 7:30 a.m. they are ready for breakfast, then a few adjustments and they're out the door.

Kahl's twin boys were diagnosed at age 5 with Becker muscular dystrophy, a genetically inherited degenerative disease that weakens the muscles.

"We were told they wouldn't need wheelchairs until they were 40," Kahl recalled. "They were 11."

A decade later, Harlan and Andy Kahl are on the verge of leaving their rigid schedules behind as they prepare for their graduation from South Washington County Schools' Next Step program Wednesday, June 8. They're among 31 graduates from the program for students up to 21 who completed their high school academic goals, often through special education assistance, but have needs for transition into independent living and the workforce.

Kahl said the Next Step program has been beneficial for Harlan and Andy, as well as the other students.

"We're proud of all the students who go there, because they face a lot of different challenges," she said.

Kahl added the program helps students set realistic expectations as well as learning how to do laundry, set up their finances and other day-to-day business.

Kahl said her sons have enjoyed their time at Next Step, meeting other students, participating in the activities, even cooking.

"So it gives them a little experience out in the world," she said.

Their routines will change after graduation.

"We've decided as a family to take a year off, because my sons have been on a bus since they were 3 to go to preschool and then they were diagnosed when they were 5," Kahl said.

For all intents and purposes, she added, for the first time in the last 18 years they won't have to wait to get on a bus.

"That's why I'm so proud of them. They go through all that and still get up most days in a good mood," Kahl said. "They don't have the typical challenges other teenagers have."

She said the twins struggle from about 6:15 to 7:30 a.m. to get ready and she wants them to do as much as they can while they still can. She said every day is a new challenge, new muscles give up and both have different levels of ability.

Every day, Kahl said, a little bit more goes away.

"I don't. I don't think of it," Kahl said when asked how she handles the work on a daily basis. "I can't. You just have to go day by day. You can't change what is, you just have to go with it."

Kahl said they have a couple of fishing trips lined up, one through Let's Go Fishing organization, which provides no-cost fishing and boating trips in the Stillwater area.

"Otherwise, the rest of our summer is kind of open," Kahl said. "We're just going to take it easy and relax."

Last August, 16 years after Harlan and Andy were diagnosed with Becker muscular dystrophy, Kahl said she was diagnosed with the same disease, although it won't be nearly as severe.

Regardless, at the end of the day Wednesday, the Kahl twins will have their signed diplomas from East Ridge High School and no buses to catch in the foreseeable future.

John R. Russett

John Russett is a regional reporter for RiverTown Multimedia, covering a variety of issues facing RiverTown communities. Previously, he worked at the Red Wing Republican Eagle, where he reported on education as well as crime and courts. 

You can follow him on Twitter at @JohnRyanRussett


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