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Ellina is an independent seven-year-old who loves to dance and sing. She’s not afraid of anything, says her mom, Emily, and she “really loves to try new things.”

Ellina, who goes by Ellie, was born with spina bifida and had back and brain surgery when she was just one day old. “She has a specialist for every part of her body,” Emily says, “which is common with spina bifida.” Over her seven years Ellie has been cared for by a pediatric neurosurgeon, gastroenterologist, physiatrist, urologist, orthopedic surgeon, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and more.

Ellie has a big sister who loves and takes care of her, and parents who believe she can be whoever she wants to be. They immersed her in activities from an early age. “We got her into the toddler lab at the College of Southern Idaho when she was 18 months old,” Emily says. “She’s played on a t-ball team, been a soccer helper, and sings in voice recitals.”

She’s also changed a lot of people’s lives around her. “Some students at the toddler lab ended up going into special education because of their time with Ellie,” Emily says. Inspired by Ellie, her dad, Earl, switched careers and now builds orthotics and prosthetics. And Emily has become an advocate for early childhood education and disability rights. She is on the Idaho Council for Developmental Disabilities and helped start Idaho Spina Bifida, a statewide support group that now includes 90 families.

“Ellie is my inspiration,” she says. “She’s the best blessing I could have had.”

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