I sat across the table from little Emily Davis and her aunt, Pam Chaney, at the Hillsboro Rotary meeting last Tuesday. Emily was the poster child for this year’s Ernie Blankenship Radio-Telethon for the Highland County Society for Children and Adults.
At the Ponderosa Banquet Center where Rotary meets, Emily, who had just turned 10, was adorable in a little Easter hat and dress. In front of her on the table, on a small plastic plate, was a delicious-looking piece of chocolate pie. Emily was staring intently at the scrumptious pie, silently, quietly, studiously boring a hole through it with her eyes as Rotarians mingled all around her.
I asked myself why she was staring at the pie so eagerly, with such anticipation, without digging in, while everyone around her was eating and drinking to their heart’s content. Then I noticed there was no silverware at her setting. I said, “Emily, do you need a fork?”
She glanced up briefly, smiled shyly, shook her head, and returned her gaze to the tempting dessert a few inches from her face.
Her aunt, having heard my question, smiled and said, “She can’t eat it. She just likes to look at it.”
At that moment, I remembered the story Jeff Gilliland had written a few days earlier about Emily which mentioned that because of her condition she was unable to eat or drink anything orally.
My heart melted, and anyone who wouldn’t have the same reaction apparently has a pretty large and empty cavity in their chest. Here was this cute little girl, with an attitude of happiness and contentment that would put most healthier children (and adults) to shame, admiring a chocolate confection that she was able only to savor and taste with her eyes and her imagination. She just liked to look at it.
As Jeff’s story described it, Emily was born with Riley-Day syndrome. She can’t eat or drink orally, can’t feel pain or temperature change, has a dry eyes condition that requires drops every two hours when she’s awake, and has repeated occurrences of pneumonia. Her aunt said this was the first winter Emily has not had pneumonia.
Just a week before Emily joined Rotarians at Ponderosa, Rocky Coss – who, along with his wife, Gayle, are today the driving forces behind the Society for Children and Adults and the annual radio-telethon – told Rotarians that Emily was back in the hospital for her dry-eyes condition. In fact, the night before Wednesday’s telethon she had made yet another trip to the hospital, and everyone was happy she was released in time to attend the ceremonies at Merchants Bank.
Emily lives with her grandfather, Doug Chaney, and she also has a good support network among other members of the Chaney family like Aunt Pam, as well as father Aaron Davis and her other grandparents, Herb and Patty Day. Emily has a happy, loving and generous disposition. Instead of birthday presents this year, she asked for donations to the Society for Children and Adults and the Humane Society.
When Jeff wrote his initial story on Emily, he asked her why she was asking for donations to those organizations in lieu of presents. She replied, “Because I want to be kind.”
The part of her condition that keeps her from feeling pain might at first seem rather nice. Wouldn’t it be great never to feel pain? It might, if you’re also invulnerable, like Superman. But when you’re not, it’s dangerous. Emily actually broke her leg once, but no one immediately knew it because she didn’t feel anything.
Here’s something even more moving, if you can handle it. Despite being unable to eat or drink like the rest of us, you know what Emily wants to be when she grows up? A chef. That’s right. A chef.
People like Emily’s family who care for children and adults with special needs have qualities of patience, generosity and sacrifice that are difficult for most of us mere mortals to comprehend. My wife’s sister has had some lifelong physical challenges, and the love and care her mother, step-father and other family members have exhibited over the years are amazing.
People like Linda Allen and all the workers and volunteers at SATH and KAMP Dovetail, everyone associated with Hills & Dales, those who work through organizations like the Society for Children and Adults, and everyone else who devotes their lives to caring for children or adults with special medical or developmental needs truly have a special place in Heaven that the rest of us will simply not attain.
At the Rotary meeting last Tuesday, Emily was so cute I couldn’t resist asking if I could take her picture. She quickly nodded, smiled, and struck a pose with her chin resting on her hand. The savory piece of pie that had been in front of her while everyone else was enthusiastically enjoying lunch and dessert had already been cleared away, untouched.
But the picture that is forever in my mind’s eye is of that beautiful little girl staring anxiously at that piece of chocolate pie that she could not eat.
Every year, the radio-telethon features a poster child, each with his or her own special challenge. This year, Emily represents children and adults across Highland County, many with stories every bit as compelling as hers. So even though this year’s radio-telethon has passed, contributions are needed and welcome year round.
If you haven’t made a contribution, I encourage you do so today, whether it be $5, $10, $25, $100 or whatever you can spare. You can make your check payable to HCSCA and drop it off at any uptown bank, or mail it to HCSCA, P.O. Box 258, Hillsboro, Ohio, 45133.
This year, make sure to write a note in the memo line that says “For Emily’s birthday” so she’ll know you were thinking of her. Why? Because you want to be kind.
Reach Gary Abernathy at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @abernathygary.