Love knows no bounds and this charming British couple lives out this truth day in and day out. Meet Tommy and Maryanne Pilling, two individuals with Down syndrome who married each other twenty-two years ago. Some people believe the myth that people with Down syndrome can’t get married or foster serious, meaningful relationships. Unfortunately, this is a reality that the Pillings had to face. But we hope to shed light on some of these myths and remind others that they are people, too, and should be acknowledged that way.
The Story of Tommy Pilling and Maryanne Martin
The Pillings’ journey has been a challenging yet fruitful one and it began more than two decades ago. Tommy and Maryanne had been dating for a year and a half when he realized that he wanted to spend his life with her.
When it came time to buy an engagement ring, he ran into a problem we’re all familiar with – money. But that didn’t stop Tommy. Instead, he got creative and used a plastic ring from a vending machine. When Maryanne’s mom discovered this, however, she brought him to a jewelry store to pick out something truly special.
Lindi, Maryanne’s sister shared that their “mum [had] been 100 percent supportive. Anyone should have the right to marry the love of their life without prejudice or discrimination.”
And in July 1995, Maryanne said yes! (Isn’t it nice knowing when a story is going to end well?) The wedding that followed included 250 friends and family members.
But there were people who criticized their decision to get married and those who supported this special commitment. Some claimed that the marriage wouldn’t last because people with Down syndrome, for whatever reason, couldn’t have serious relationships. This couldn’t have been a nice feeling, but those who mattered most – their true friends and family – showed them unconditional love and support.
In fact, people with Down syndrome can be incredibly sociable and foster meaningful relationships. And if two people are right for each other, they can date and even marry. (And, dare we say, have more fulfilling relationships than some people you may know).
“What keeps their marriage so strong is that there is never a hidden agenda,” Lindi said about the couple on their Facebook page, Maryanne and Tommy. “They love each other with their whole hearts and are honest with one another.”
What is Down Syndrome?
Contrary to popular belief, Down syndrome is not a rare genetic disorder or necessarily hereditary. In fact, Down syndrome is the most common chromosomal condition in America. Every year, doctors diagnose approximately 6,000 (or 1 out of every 700) babies with Down syndrome. Moreover, only 1 percent of all cases of Down syndrome are hereditary.
This condition occurs when an extra chromosome is present in someone’s body. Babies tend to be born with forty-six chromosomes but for those with Down syndrome, there is a copy of the twenty-first chromosome. Due to this additional chromosome, the baby’s brain and body develop with some differences that can result in varying mental or physical challenges.
What is Down Syndrome? (The 3 Types)
Trisomy 21 is the most common type, accounting for about 95 percent of people with Down syndrome. It occurs when each cell in the body has three copies of chromosome 21 instead of two.
Translocation Down syndrome accounts for about 3 percent of people. It occurs when either a part of or the whole chromosome is attached or “translocated” to one of the original chromosomes.
Mosaic Down syndrome accounts for about 2 percent of people. It occurs when only some (or many, but not all) cells have a mosaic or “mixture” of cells with either two or three copies of chromosome 21.
What is Down Syndrome: Common Myths and Misconceptions
We’ve answered the question of what is down syndrome, mentioned some facts about Down syndrome in America, and tackled some false beliefs that surround the topic. The lack of understanding runs deep, however, so we’ve debunked a few more myths about people with Down syndrome.
Most people with Down syndrome are born to older parents. It’s true that the likelihood of a mother giving birth to a child with Down syndrome increases if she is older, especially after the age of thirty-five. However, most children with Down syndrome are born to mothers under the age of thirty-five.
Parents will not find community support bringing up their child with Down syndrome. Don’t let this surprise you, but almost every community in America has parent support groups in addition to services that directly benefit individuals with Down syndrome. (You can find a list of community groups here.)
Scientists know everything there is to know about Down syndrome. Scientists are aware that people with Down syndrome carry extra whole or partial copies of chromosome 21. They even know a lot about how Down syndrome can affect a person both physically and mentally. While research is growing and scientists are moving towards improving, correcting, or preventing it, we’re not yet fully there.
Segregated special education programs are the only option for students with Down syndrome. The last thing we want to do is segregate these individuals. Inclusion and integration into a community are key. The extent to which they can fully participate or require one-on-one assistance will vary from person to person. But being in the same classroom setting can be incredibly beneficial for people with and without Down syndrome.
Tommy and Maryanne’s Secret to Happiness
If there’s a secret to happiness that we’re going to listen to, it’s this one. It is both humbling and encouraging to witness a relationship so pure that continues to grow stronger, even despite the critics. For twenty-two years, the Pillings have based their marriage on love and honesty.
But what does that look like lived out?
Well, when Maryanne isn’t working at a local charity store, she and Tommy are quite the socialites! When they want to get out of the apartment they live in together, they watch movies, bowl, golf, go to amusement parks, get dinner and drinks, and always make time for family.
When you see a relationship like this, Lindi’s statement only becomes truer: “Anything is possible with love and there should be no limitations for anyone, no matter what their circumstances are.”
So, for anyone with aspirations to have a long-lasting and successful relationship, this is Tommy and Maryanne’s secret: “Always be honest, make time for each other, and always have respect for each other.”
We could all learn something from a love like theirs.
 Parker SE, Mai CT, Canfield MA, et al. Updated national birth prevalence estimates for selected birth defects in the United States, 2004-2006. Birth Defects Res A Clin Mol Teratol. 2010;88:1008-16.