If you could be anyone, who would you want to be? If you could have anything, what would you want to have? If you could go anywhere, where would you want to go? If you could meet anyone, who would you want to meet? These are some of the questions the Make-A-Wish Foundation asks a child battling a life-threatening disease.
“Emmily wished for a swimming pool,” said Roxanne Owens, Land Analyst at Darling Homes. “The foundation granted that wish for her, which started our journey with Make-A-Wish.”
At age 3, Roxanne’s daughter, Emmily Blackburn, was diagnosed with Moyamoya, a rare and progressive cerebrovascular disorder caused by blocked arteries at the base of the brain. Just four years later, when Emmily was 7 years old, the family faced a sudden and tragic circumstance.
“We went in for her normal MRI and the doctors told us she needed to have brain surgery right away,” said Roxanne. “We ended up taking her to Boston Children’s Hospital for the surgery and the day we got back, she had a stroke that paralyzed the left side of her body.”
That year, Emmily was hospitalized for nearly 120 days. She spent a few weeks in recovery followed by approximately four weeks in rehab, learning how to walk again and improving her day-to-day abilities. Her rehab inspired her wish for a swimming pool.
“Emmily said the first time she could remember standing up again was in the water at rehab,” said Roxanne. “The water is her therapy.”
One year later, Emmily’s wish for a backyard swimming pool was granted.
“We realized how much that meant to her and we knew the reason behind it,” said Roxanne.
The organization grants a wish approximately every 37 minutes. Children with medical conditions and severe disease are given the opportunity to be someone, experience something, travel somewhere or meet somebody to bring happiness, energy and strength to their daily battle.
Roxanne began her career with Darling Homes in 2000, just one year before Emmily’s surgery. Shortly after, Darling Homes expanded to La Villita in Las Colinas where the Make-A-Wish Foundation of North Texas also began building their new offices. As part of the new development, all builders were asked to donate to the foundation for each home sold in La Villita.
As the Darling Homes team learned about the family’s journey and Emmily’s condition, the company became interested in getting more involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
In early 2006, Emmily was asked to perform at the annual Make-A-Wish of North Texas Wish Night Gala, so Darling Homes purchased tickets for Emmily and Roxanne to attend.
The company has continued to sponsor the family with two tickets to each Wish Night Gala since 2006.
“We make it an all-about-Emmily night,” said Roxanne. “It’s an evening for her to mingle with friends and enjoy being a normal kid.”
This year, at the 20th Anniversary of the Wish Night Gala, the foundation raised nearly $2 million. In addition to Wish Night, children are invited to a variety of events and activities throughout the year, including art parties, sporting events and the Blue Angels Air Shows.
“Other people may not realize to the extent that Make-A-Wish becomes family,” said Roxanne. “Experiencing this makes you realize how much the foundation truly impacts those who need it at such desperate times.”
Today, Emmily is 22 years old and continues to support and actively participate as a Wish Ambassador for the foundation. She is attending North Central Texas College studying to be a pediatric nurse and participates in the Special Olympics swimming every year.
Although her stroke at age 7 caused her to lose half of her vision, it’s clear to see Emmily’s energy and motivation. She’s dedicating her life to help make a difference for children who need medical attention and care.
“People know what Make-A-Wish Foundation does, but may not understand how it’s truly a life-changing experience,” said Roxanne. “Emmily is a pretty incredible kid, and it’s exciting to see what she’s been able to achieve.”
Darling Homes’ support and encouragement of the family displays its commitment to employees and their families, as well as its dedication to local charities throughout Dallas-Fort Worth.