Emily’s Story

Emily was born curious and determined. From an early age people called her an old soul: wise beyond her years, calculated, and precise. As an athlete, Emily found swimming, skiing, soccer, and hockey her passions. A true leader both in skill and friendship, she was captain of her soccer team, and assistant captain of her hockey team. Academically, she excelled.

On February 14, 2011, this precocious eleven-year-old entered BC Children’s Hospital for what was considered a routine procedure to correct a curvature to her spine. During the surgery, she suffered a catastrophic T11 injury, and as a result became paraplegic. She remained in hospital until late March, and during this time had a steady stream of well-wishers including Rick Hansen, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Josh Dueck. Afterwards, she was moved to Sunnyhill Rehab Centre before finally going home in August.

Emily is a strong, determined, and focused twelve-year-old who works hard with her physiotherapist on various specialized equipment, and in the pool. Along with her family, she has travelled to the United States for further treatment and to understand more about her condition. Emily once posted on her blog, “You’ll never know how strong you are until strong is all you’ve got”.

Emily was born into a family of difference makers: community-minded, volunteer-oriented and continually focused on finding ways to make their community a better place to live, work and play. The list of community projects and events her family has had a direct impact on is long, and the amount of money they have helped raise for their community over the years is profound. Emily’s mother is a multiple-nominee of several community recognitions, and recently was awarded the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in recognition of her dedicated community service.

It was no surprise to anyone who knows this family that following Emily’s injury, they turned such a tragic and personal adversity into another opportunity to support their community by becoming advocates for accessibility, especially amongst youth. Last summer, with the support of her parents and many friends, Emily organized a fundraiser for the Rick Hansen Foundation while still in hospital; the event generated $17,000, and inspired a community.

Today, Emily and her family are working with the Foundation on initiatives targeted at supporting youth. Emily has a deep admiration for Rick and the support he has given her and her family. In recognition for her courage and strength, Rick Hansen selected Emily to be a medal bearer for his recent 25th Anniversary Difference-Maker medal relay, along with her younger sister Audrey, who became Type 1 diabetic in 2008 and is herself a difference-maker for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.

In her community, Emily regularly challenges her municipal government when she encounters accessibility issues in her neighbourhood. She also advises her community centre on accessibility concerns with the facility, and has provided input for an accessible garden project that is now under construction.

This year, Emily was a finalist in the Courage to Come Back Award Youth Category; Coast Capital Savings offered to sponsor her to attend the awards dinner, however she decided instead to use the funds to bring a wheelchair basketball demonstration to her school. Simply another example of how she continues to think of ways to create awareness, and inspires so many at such a young age.

Emily’s Family’s Story

Prior to Emily’s injury, her family enjoyed a comfortable and relaxed life-style, with both parents working at successful and well-paying careers. Afterwards, her mother gave up her career to focus on helping Emily with her recovery and the unexpected new direction their lives had taken. The family was forced to sell their unique and beloved home they had built themselves, as it was not possible to renovate it for Emily’s accessible needs. Her mom had to buy a new vehicle to accommodate her chair and various other equipment she routinely needs for her day-to-day activities.

Emily and her family now live in a standard two-storey house full of many barriers for Emily. The house requires a massive renovation to make it fully accessible, including her bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and installation of an elevator among other necessary additions, before it can truly be called their home. With their income now cut in half, and the new financial burden of a wheelchair, therapeutic equipment, physiotherapy, and other costs associated with Emily’s long-term health and well being, coupled with the on-going expense of diabetic care for their other child, plus an elderly parent with dementia now requiring assisted living care, the family has reached a breaking point. The brutal truth is there is a serious lack of funding for families thrown into a tragic situation like this. Emily’s parents’ simple wish is for a barrierfree home, a simple way to get therapy done, the ability to pay their way forward, and to find happiness and strength in it all. Although the family has the means to begin the process and enable some immediate changes for Emily’s benefit, a complete renovation would take some years to accomplish as they would need to do the work on a project-by-project basis as their resources are stretched to accommodate the new reality of their routine family needs.

Emily’s family are big believers in giving back to their community, which they demonstrate on a daily basis. Whenever they see a need, they act. Now it is the community who has been presented with an opportunity to fill a need, to act, and to give back to a family whom have done so much for so many. Setting The Project “In Motion” with Ashton Service Group Recently, Rick Hansen contacted us to inquire if our firm, Ashton Service Group would be able to assist a family in Steveston renovate their bathroom to make it wheelchair accessible. Rick went on to tell the story of Emily and her family and their situation.

A short time later we met with Emily’s parents, Charmis and Grant, and discussed all of the challenges their family was facing. Not only did they have the obvious physical challenges for Emily, but also everything in their lives from housing to transportation to medical care was now affected. Their lives were truly turned upside down.

After learning about all of the hardships that their family was enduring, we, along with our good friend Ken Johnson of Carerra Projects, made a decision to not only renovate a bathroom but to rebuild their home completely.

Over the next few weeks we shared Emily’s story with friends and business associates and received overwhelming support and offers to help with the project.

Together with the generous support of the community through donations and volunteers, we look forward to making a difference.

Brian and Julie Williams
Ashton Service Group
www.ashtoncaringteam.org (under development)

Please help the Ashton Caring Team build this family a new home by making a donation payable to “Ashton Service Group” for Project Emily. Thank you!

Check out Emily’s media coverage on the Related Press page.

This site is being presented in part by the Vancouver plumbing company Ashton Service Group. For more information about plumbing, drain repair or heating service in Vancouver please visit their website.