Three weeks ago, Melissa Smith’s life was changed forever by theCHIVE community. After beating cancer twice, she was paralyzed from the waist down by a rare disease, Transverse Myelitis. Trapped on the 3rd story of her apartment, and with hope withering, theCHIVE community would rally around Melissa and raise nearly $450,000 to build her a new handicap-accessible home. After two years in solitude, Melissa was free.
Melissa’s campaign has become the feelgood story of the year. She’s recognized wherever she goes and has inspired millions of people across the globe to appreciate everything they have. I promised to return to Annapolis again to check on Melissa – a promise I kept last week when I returned to Annapolis to visit her again.
But what was supposed to be a recap post for the Chivers, an update on Melissa’s shiny new life, became something so much more.
I met with Melissa and her family at The Green Turtle restaurant in Annapolis. Melissa’s life was indeed changed. She’s confident now, always smiling. Melissa carries herself with a profound sense of calm. But during our talk, I could sense something was on her mind.
“John, the Chivers have done so much for me. I’ll never be able to repay their generosity. But I can try and pay it forward. I have to try. I can’t stop thinking about something lately. John, do you remember the beautiful little blonde girl in the wheelchair in the restaurant the day we met?”
Her name was Addyson, but everybody called her Addy.
Addyson O’Donnell was a close family friend. She was born with Spina Bifida, a birth defect that occurs when a baby’s spinal column does not close all the way in the womb. There are many types of Spina Bifida, the most severe of which causes severe nerve damage and paralysis. Addyson caught the worst of it. She’s been paralyzed since birth.
Melissa told me, “This little girl is so precious to my family. She’s a brilliant little girl and she needs our help. Could you just meet her?”
Obviously, I would be extending my stay here in Annapolis (thanks Ken and Michelle Ham, and all the Midshipmen at the Naval Academy for putting me up for the week). Melissa called Addy’s mother, Janice, as well as the Maryland Chive Chapter to meet us the next day at McGarvey’s Restaurant. It was a night I won’t forget.
Addy arrived with her mother and Melissa and I finally sat down with Janice to hear Addy’s story.
Janice recalled the day Addy was born, “Her right leg didn’t move. It was clear from the start that she had no feeling in the limb. It was a dead appendage. But then I saw her raise her left leg a little. The doctors said it was responding to heat and cold. My husband Ryan and I thought, ‘Thank God, there is hope.’ Still, Addy’s left leg is missing her hip flexor muscles and there’s nerve damage. If she ever walks, which is unlikely, it will be with a brace.”
Janice told me her biggest concern is the fluid buildup in her brain. It’s known to cause cognitive delays in the most severe cases. Although it has caused eating and drinking problems – Addy chokes on her food a lot – her cognitive development is stunning.
Addy was speaking in full sentences by the time she was one. Now at 2 years old she focuses on using proper grammar when she talks. Addy has an accelerated mental capacity. She’s a brilliant child.
As Janice tells me this, she pauses, choked up as she tells me, “It’s a double-edged sword, you see. Addy is so mentally gifted, she’s heartbreakingly aware that she’s different. She knows. I try not to let it show. I smile and keep it positive but she knows. When Addy sees a group of kids playing, she’ll wheel over to them and literally fling herself out of her chair onto the ground. She’ll army-crawl around and try to play with the kids as fast as her arms will take her.”
Addy’s big sister, Riley (3), keeps a constant eye on Addy. She often puts her hand on the wheel of Addy’s chair. The two are linked in ways we’ll never understand.
We start talking about Addy’s needs.
“Addy is constantly flinging herself out of her chair because she wants to play like a normal child. It’s so dangerous. There’s this amazing ground-level chair called a ZipZac. It’s amazing and safe. But it’s like $2,000. To us, $2,000 might as well be a million dollars. We can’t afford that right now. Also, our condo needs a wheelchair ramp badly. It doesn’t have one.
…But I really want to get Addy more physical therapy sessions to strengthen her hip flexor muscles. Strengthening those muscles are the bridge to her having a chance to walk.”
That night, the plan was already coming together thanks to the Maryland Chivers.
The Maryland Chivers have an amazing reputation for raising big money to help various causes. They recently raised $10,000 for Melissa at a local meetup. Prior to that they raised a staggering $22,000 for the SPCA of Anne Arundel County. If the Maryland Chive Chapter wants to help you, you’re in very good hands.
The Maryland Chivers joined us that evening and told me their plan for the next big fundraiser – Melissa Pays It Forward To Addy. Janice had no idea that this was in the works and broke down in tears when I accidentally told her (sorry guys, I didn’t know! – but it was pretty funny). The event is on Friday, November 15th at Fado’s in Annapolis. The cover charge goes to Addy, as do proceeds from the drinks. There’s even a silent auction.
I asked the Maryland Chivers what we could do to help?
“Make sure this event is attended by every Chiver East of the Allegheny Mountains.”
Yep, we can do that. Event details right here. If you live remotely close to Annapolis, get your dancing shoes on.
We’ll also be contributing a ton of exclusive Chive gear to the event for the silent auction. And something tells me we’ll get Bill Murray to sign some posters.
I’m sure all the Chivers West of the Alleghenies want to participate. Janice and Ryan stressed that the charity event was more than generous. The idea that theCHIVE community had chosen to help Addy with a meetup was enough.
But it wasn’t just theCHIVE community. It was Melissa. She chose this to pay it forward. So I’m just going to leave this GoFundMe link right here. The O’Donnell family thought that even a $1,000 goal would be “huge for us” but I convinced them to go just a little higher.
When I parted ways with Janice and Addy, I asked Janice what she wanted more than anything for her daughter.
“I want Addy to have as normal as a life as possible. I want her to have the same opportunities as other children. I believe miracles can happen. The other day I was sitting on the edge of the pool with my daughter. We were watching the other kids play. Addy grabbed her legs with her arms and started splashing her legs back and forth in the water, her gaze never left the playing children. Then she looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy, I want to walk.'”
If history is any indication here at theCHIVE, maybe that impossible wish will be granted.