Emmarie “Emmie” McCracken is a bubbly 2-year-old, full of laughter and quick to smile.
With the help of her father, Morgan McCracken, and a little assist from the St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation, she’s also getting a taste of the mobility that marks children her age as “toddlers.”
Emmie is aided in standing upright and moving her legs by an Upsee mobility assistance device, giving her the experience of walking – something that she is unable to do on her own.
Emmie was born with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
“At some point about two days before she was born, she had oxygen loss and that damaged over 80 percent of her brain, and so as a result of that have come numerous different diagnoses, including cerebral palsy,” her father said.
The family is optimistic as she continues to grow, but it was difficult initially to comprehend what life would be like for her.
“We had the unusual benefit of knowing from the beginning that she would be different,” Rachel McCracken, her mother, said. “The day after she was born, the neurologist sat me down and said, ‘Your kid is going to be different and you need to start processing that.’”
Knowing from the beginning that Emmie had complications was both a blessing and a burden.
“Having that from the beginning helped. We knew this would happen and could anticipate the pain of seeing her get behind with walking or something,” Rachel McCracken said. “At the same time, I didn’t really get a lot of forewarning. It was like, bam.
“It was really emotional to try to comprehend what life would be like for her. The uncertainty of not knowing what would happen to her was pretty stark as well,” she said. “We knew she was different, but not to what degree.”
“When she was a little younger, I think it took us a little while to realize how different things would be,” Morgan McCracken said. “She was our first kid, so we didn’t have any experience with a traditional child, and it wasn’t until she was 6 months old or so and we were at church and we were realizing kids her age are starting to move and jabber a lot more and she still wasn’t rolling over and it was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute – things are going to be different.’”
Emmie is in therapy three or four times a week for physical, occupational and feeding therapies. Her favorite? Swim therapy.
“It’s gotten slowly better,” Rachel McCracken said. “The first year was really painful in seeing other babies overtake her. Because the first year, babies develop so quickly.
“As things have progressed, and we have gotten used to the idea that she will be behind other kids, it’s been a little bit easier. There are still days that we sit down and cry because our little girl can’t go out and play with the other kids.”
The McCrackens, whose home is filled with love and laughter, have not let difference define their daughter or their family.
“We try to keep on the upside of things,” Rachel McCracken said. “One thing we said from the beginning when we had Emmie was, ‘Wait and see what tomorrow will bring,’ and that has helped us a lot. It might be hard right now, but tomorrow is a new day.”
Each day truly has brought developments, small steps leading to major milestones for Emmie. And while walking is a huge item on her parents’ wish list, it’s also the little things that matter.
“I am really looking forward to her being able to reach out her arms,” her mom said. “A little bit emotional for me, but I always envy the moms who can pick up their child and their baby can wrap their arms around her neck, and I wanted that for so long and so we worked with her on her hands and her grasp and even just getting her fingers to uncurl so she can grab things.
“For me, that’s one of the biggest ones that I am really looking forward to,” she said. “I do believe that will happen.”
With therapy, Emmie is progressing.
The McCracken family is finding support for their daughter, through the community and from St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation. The Foundation was able to purchase an Upsee for Emmie through the Children with Special Needs fund in December. Those funds are able to help children just like Emmie – a little girl who loves to clap, to sign and to learn – to have what they need to grow and thrive.
This year, after receiving the Upsee, Emmie has played soccer with her grandpa.
In 2006, St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation established the Children with Special Needs fund to provide financial support for special equipment, therapy, travel assistance, family counseling and respite care for medically/developmentally disabled children up to age 18 with specific needs who are not eligible for funding by insurance or other medical assistance. The fund does not provide payment for deductibles, co-pays, etc., when insurance coverage is available, and is limited to $1,000 per child per year.
Over the past few years, more than 400 children have received help through the program. Grants have paid for speech therapy, social skills, occupational and physical therapy, learning and communication technologies, orthotics, physical corrective equipment and hippotherapy. Over the past four years, the Foundation has awarded $162,300 to children with special needs.
The Foundation has a goal of raising $300,000 for this fiscal year, $100,000 of which will be placed in an endowment to help future generations in perpetuity. All funds raised from the Foundation’s golf tournament at Clear Lake Country Club in Buhl on June 8 and the Foundation’s Epicurean Evening at Canyon Crest in Twin Falls on Oct. 5 will go to this fund.
For more information on St. Luke’s Magic Valley Health Foundation, go to stlukesonline.org/mvdonate or call (208) 814-0070.
Michelle Bartlome is the public relations manager at St. Luke's Magic Valley.