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Watching out for Ella
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When little Ella Kaye Wagner and her mother, Audrianna McMillen, arrived at the Yuma Women's Club, they were wet from perspiration. It was the middle of summer, and the air conditioning in their car had stopped working.
The club had invited McMillen, 23, and her then 2-year-old daughter to find out how members could help her. Ella was born with a rare condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita, which causes the joints in her arms and legs to be locked into position.
As they stepped into the clubhouse, their need became instantly clear. The 11 club members decided to find a way to fix the car's AC. They enlisted the help of Team Ramco, who agreed to repair the AC and split the labor cost with the club.
The club also found out that the car needed new tires. Ed Whitehead Tire Country allowed the club to buy four tires for the cost of two. The company also changed the car's oil and offered to continue to do so in the future.
This is only a few examples of how the community stepped up to help Ella following the publication of her story in June.
Other community residents donated $250 in cash, which helped the young family – which includes 24-year-old dad, Dave Wagner – to keep the electricity on. They were days from being disconnected.
“I don't know what we would have done if we hadn't gotten that help,” McMillen noted. “We are thankful for the help we have received.”
In addition, Mike and Michelle Simpson of Wellton are sponsoring horse therapy for Ella at Saddles of Joy. They met the little girl at the Pumpkin Patch, where Ella and her mom rode their horse while Mike walked it. Ella enjoyed it so much the Simpsons offered to pay for the monthly sessions.
“She wants to be a cowgirl now,” McMillen quipped.
Ella Kaye, who recently celebrated her third birthday, will be starting preschool Jan. 8 with other special needs kids.
“She's excited to go to school, but I'm scared,” McMillen said.
Ella couldn't start school unless she had a wheelchair. Children's Rehabilitative Services at Yuma Regional Medical Center will be giving her a $1,800 wheelchair in February.
And soon after, the Shriners organization will get her a $1,600 gate trainer. It's like a walker that will teach her how to walk.
“Ella wants to walk. She doesn't quite have the strength yet, but she wants to do it,” McMillen said. “Either Dave or I will hold her and move her feet so she can take steps. She's getting bigger so she has a harder time scooting around.”
However, the proud mom notes that Ella Kaye is not disabled. “She is different-abled. Disabled implies she can't do some things. She can do everything, but differently,” she explained.
In the immediate future, the young family has to deal with other challenges involving Ella Kaye's care, such as reliable transportation to the Shriners Hospital for Children in Los Angeles.
In spite of the efforts of the Yuma Women's Club, the family's car finally died and they had to take on a used car payment. They had hoped for a van or a SUV to be able to fit Ella's wheelchair, but they could only afford the payments on a 2005 Dodge Neon.
Ella's parents, who live check to check, also need to pay for gas and other traveling expenses. McMillen works as a caregiver for the elderly while going to school full-time to become a health-care administrator. Wagner, a construction worker and musician, currently stays at home with Ella. When she starts school, he hopes to start his own lawn and/or pool care business.
In the meantime, the family is looking forward to a new year of transitions.
“It's crazy to think everything we've been through in three years,” McMillen said.
In her first 2-1/2 years, Ella has had five surgeries and countless therapy sessions. Afterwards the little girl used casts and then fashionable pink-and-animal-print braces that keep her feet in the flex position, stretching them out.
The girl still has more surgeries in her future.
Since family and friends have expressed an interest in donating to their cause, Wagner's sister set up a PayPal account at www.ellasworld.me, which tells Ella Kaye's journey.
Family members also opened up an account for donations at Wells Fargo (Account No. 3490109083).
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.