It took a happy team of people to cause Emilee Wheeler’s “Make-A-Wish” to come true.
Emilee is the beautiful 16 year old daughter of Dale and Amanda Wheeler, of Peck. According to Mom, Amanda, she was the easiest pregnancy, carry, and birth of all her children. But soon, she realized, milestones that she knew Emilee should be accomplishing were not happening.
Scared and apprehensive, she began to research symptoms and made an appointment with Emilee’s doctor. The doctor referred Emilee to Seattle where it was discovered she had Rett Syndrome, along with other difficulties including epilepsy and scoliosis.
The long journey began.
Amanda works under Clearwater Youth Alliance at CHEAP (Childhood Early Enrichment Program) so she knows how to work with children and loves them. It is almost like she was prepared for her daughter before she even arrived.
Em, as she calls her daughter, couldn’t have better parents. She and Dale work together closely as they raise their child. As Amanda says, “Em goes everywhere we go, does everything with us, and she will always be with us.”
She doesn’t know all the details of how Emilee got nominated for Make-A-Wish but it has been a blessing getting to know Edie Anderson, of Orofino, trained volunteer for Make-A-Wish, who worked to bring to pass Emilee’s “Wish”.
Edie comments, “This is a first for Make-A-Wish: a hot tub! But it is the perfect gift and one that will last.” With Emilee’s condition the hot tub was perfect.
Edie met Emilee and Amanda on Jan. 25 of this year. She also met with her physical therapist, Josh Tilley, at the family’s recommendation, to see if it was appropriate for Emilee to receive a hot tub. He agreed that it made sense with the type of challenges she has.
Amanda agrees. “Because of Emilee’s specific condition she is pretty much non-verbal with uncontrollable extremities, easily bruising. This gift not only gives her a safe place to relax and exercise but, right now, with the travel restrictions, this was even more of a perfect gift.”
Edie commented, “I didn’t get to know Emilee as well as I wanted to because of the Covid virus. In January we were fine so we were kicking it off, but then, by February or March we were limited, done. Communication was then done on the phone. I like being involved with the children, not just studying their problems, but, being with them.
“Even so, the project was completed on July 23, the hot tub in place, and the celebration happened!”
Mom Amanda says, ”Emily loves to be in the water. When she’s in the water her hands will open up. The hot tub affords freedom of movement, makes exercise easier and just plain gives pleasure and comfort to her body and well-being. Emilee lights up over her gift and loves it. She has been in the hot tub every day since it arrived. She didn’t understand what it was until she got in it. When she got in it her face just lit up. It was instant smiles.”
The Wheeler family, the Make-A-Wish team, and Edie Anderson send Big Thank You’s to:
Kelly Watkins, of Innovative Electric Services, Inc., of Orofino, who donated his time and electrical materials for this project.
Quality Stoves & Spas – Post Falls: Jadon Remington worked in the office to get things cleared for Make-A-Wish Foundation to receive the hot tub while workers, Louis and Tyler, delivered and set up the hot tub. Amanda said they were a joyous hardworking couple of guys that it was a pleasure to have there working.
Ronatta Norland of Ronatta’s Cakery has provided cakes for Edie and Make-A-Wish since before her Cakery was even open for business. Emilee’s celebration was a joyous occasion and Ronatta is appreciated and “Big Thanked” for the beautiful cake featuring a girl in a hot tub for the party.
Normally the community is involved and a big celebration is held but, with Covid, there were precautions in place that limited this ability.
Instead, it was the people who delivered the hot tub, the Innovative Electric team, the family, and Edie who celebrated.
“Good things are still happening….” says Edie. “The fanfare is not happening now but I think in the future these long-lasting Wishes will become more popular. Several people have said they wished they had chosen things more long-lasting.
“The hot tub involves the whole family which is so important for Emilee.
“The world changing like this has made us think. There’s nothing wrong with the travel wishes at all, but something more long-term and lasting may become more the norm.
“Emilee’s story will not stop with photos and memories, but will go on. Her Wish facilitates involvement,” says Edie.
The Wheeler family appreciates many who have been very involved in their and Emilee’s life.
Amanda says, “Emilee has had wonderful teachers and people to work with her. Her preschool teacher was Peggy Polito. Peggy is the one who did the beginning work with us, then Diane Stephenson was with us through the kindergarten to sixth grade stretch.
“Diane Stephenson was phenomenal. She took Em in as a tiny little girl who didn’t know how to navigate the world, along with her mom who was very scared. She was great with both of us. She did all the early work. Even though retired she still comes to see us.”
“She was 16 in March. She’ll be a sophomore up at the High School. She goes to school. She has a wonderful para-professional at school named Jen Runia.
“Jen got her into a different classroom where she was able to work with her and just took off from there. She has had to limit visits currently because of the Covid and the fact that she works with the school district.
“Em’s favorite thing at school is band. She plays the maraca. In choir she just loves the music. The community of Orofino, the school, has accepted her. They are so kind, even everyone calls me Em’s Mom. We’ve been very very blessed with the teachers and one-on-one’s that we’ve had with Emilee.”
Another person who was/is very influential for Emilee is Josh Tilley of Orofino Physical Therapy, who spends time with Emilee as her personal physical therapist.
Amanda says, Josh just “gets her going”. We had a sixteenth birthday party for her just before Covid hit. So many from the community came. It was an open house. And we just felt very loved and so special.
“Orofino as a community, is so kind. For example, I wrote to Ryan Smathers one day, a letter about having a fundraiser to get a swing at the park and the next thing I knew they had a fundraiser and put out a whole play set that was disabled compatible. You know, they didn’t have to do that, but Em loves to go swing and she isn’t the only one. All the kids can enjoy it.
“She’s been included in so many ways. I just feel so blessed to live here.”
Josh Peterson, communications coordinator for Make-A-Wish Idaho comments, “Make-A-Wish Idaho grants wishes for kids with critical illnesses. We believe a wish is not a last wish, it’s a lasting one. Research shows that children who have wishes granted can build the physical and emotional strength they need to fight a critical illness. This may improve their overall quality of life and product better health outcomes.
“The health of our wish kids is first and foremost on our minds. Right now, Make-A-Wish Idaho has paused wish-granting that involves travel and gatherings during the global health crisis. However, we are still granting every eligible wish that can be granted during the pandemic which is still quite a few, and we plan to grant those postponed wishes as soon as it is safe.
“We are extremely happy to see Emilee’s wish come true.”