What do you think of when you think of a blessed life? Is it having a tremendous amount of fortune or fame? Is it being in love? Is it having close family and friends in your life? Or how about having two special needs children and a dilapidated house? How about being born with cerebral palsy and left in a trashcan to die?
Well, that is what the families that we helped this week consider a blessing. This week we helped both the Martirez family and the Malek family in St. Louis, Missouri. They both have had difficult situations given to them, yet they feel that they are among the most blessed people in the world. This week, we considered ourselves blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know them both.
Dawn and Emmanuel Martirez were high-school sweethearts. They fell in love, were married, and had a beautiful, healthy little girl named Elle. Dawn worked as a pediatric oncology nurse and Emmanuel worked was an aspiring comedian. Things were going great and a few years later, they decided to grow their family and have another baby. They found out that they were pregnant with twins, and were delighted! A few months into the pregnancy, however, they found out that one of the twins, Evan, would be born with a rare genetic disorder called 9P Minus. 9P Minus is an extremely rare genetic disorder with only an estimated 125 people having this condition in the U.S. Since Dawn was a nurse devoted to caring for terminally ill children, terminating the pregnancy was not an option for the couple. Plus, Emmanuel knew that there was no better person in the world to care for a child with special needs than his wife.
The couple knew they had a tough road ahead. Individuals with 9P Minus suffer from skull and skeletal abnormalities, physical handicaps and mental retardation. What they didn't know, however, is that they would have two boys with special needs. When the twins were born, they realized that the other baby, Alec, also had a rare genetic disorder known as Crouzon Syndrome. Alec also suffers from skeletal abnormalities that will require extensive corrective facial and cranial surgeries, plus he is profoundly hearing impaired. Both boys have spent most of their beginning years in the hospital for doctor visits, surgeries, and even respiratory failure. Doctors were astounded by the chances of both boys having rare genetic disorders. It is extremely rare to have one child with either of these conditions, much less both fraternal twins!
When you meet Emmanuel and Dawn, however, you would never know that they have these tremendous daily struggles. They are upbeat, positive and light up everyone around them. They are loved by their community and by their family. All week long, people were coming up to us, letting us know how this family has impacted them. Many of Dawn's former patients who had beaten cancer were right there with us, helping us along. Dawn and Emmanuel have amazing attitudes, and believe that they are more blessed than other families. They don't take any moment for granted and love the time they get to spend with their kids. Their house, however, was another story. This needed to come down to make it possible for their kids to grow! Evan is doing remarkable, and even gets around on his own at times with a walker. Alec is doing great, as well, but they all needed a home that works for them.
I worked on Elle's room this week and got to recreate something I had (and loved) as a child. I made a life-sized dollhouse in Elle's room — but I didn't stop there. I made her an entire doll town complete with a doll hair salon, a doll-clothing boutique, and a doll café. Elle loves to play with her friends and they all love to play with dolls. Well, now she'll be able to have all the neighborhood kids over to play at her house. I even got the chance to sneak away from the job site for a bit and have a play date of my own! I hung out with eight of the local neighbor girls who reminded me what it was like to be six years old again — and gave me some great ideas for Elle's room!
Dawn and Emmanuel's dream is to one day have their boys grow up and be self-sufficient. They want them to beat the odds, and excel in spite of their illnesses. Dawn even said that it would be great if one day Evan could work in a coffee shop... which leads me to the next family we helped this week, the Maleks.
Both Alec and Evan had a very rough start, but they are doing great. Sam Malek also had a very rough start, and is a great example of someone who did beat the odds and continues to do so every single day. Sam was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1963. Doctors thought that he was stillborn and threw him in the trash. As his parents were mourning the loss of their little boy, his father heard tiny cries from the trash and ran to Sam. He was alive!
Sam was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and when he was four years old, his family traveled to the United States to St. Louis, Missouri, for surgery. He has endured 29 surgeries in his life, most surgeries coming with the disclaimer that he might not live through it, and if he did, he would never walk. When Sam walks down the street with a big smile on his face, you realize that he not only beat the odds, but his great attitude in life has kept him going strong for years. His wife and two children can attest to that!
Sam has made it his mission to help people like himself those with special abilities that often times get overlooked by everyone else. He opened a coffee shop in town and employs disabled individuals and donates a portion of the proceeds to local charities. His coffee shop is called "More Than Coffee" and his motto is to "Help Challenged People One Cup at a Time." This week, not only did we build a home for the Martirez family, but we also built a small coffee shop in town for the Malek family. By building this house, we are helping one family grow. By building this coffee shop, we are helping many individuals grow to their full potential for many years.
Since we were in a neighborhood, we had limited space. We definitely could not build a house in seven days without the support of a community and this community was great. Everyone opened up their home to us we used backyards as workstations, front yards as storage spaces, driveways as loading docks and the list goes on!
And we definitely couldn't do what we do without the support of amazing builders and we had several for this show. John Shea from Callier Thompson Shea Construction and David Dunlap from Consolidated Construction Group brought their teams of men and women. They worked tirelessly, going back and forth between the house and the coffee shop, making sure to get both jobs just right for these special families.
We also could not have done it without the help of so many people with "special abilities" that came to help us this week. There were so many people there reminded us that the limitations we have are only in our minds.
The Martirez family was an inspiration to always appreciate what you have even if it's just a moment to spend with your loved ones, or the fact that you can walk down the street! Sam is an inspiration and a perfect example of never giving up of living to your full potential even when other people say that it is impossible. Not only was he living proof of determination, but he also had very wise words to share with us that I would like to pass along to you:
"Never let anyone tell you that you can't do something! Remove "can't" from your vocabulary. And just because you don't have a big disability like I do, doesn't mean that aren't being held back by something. Move past it and life to your full potential! And always try to make a difference in the lives of those around you. It doesn't need to be huge; you can make a difference in your own community every single day. Maybe it's as simple as a smile, or letting someone turn left in front of you on the road, or simply taking a moment to be nice to someone else. Never let any opportunity pass you by to make a difference — and be the difference."
And as you think of your life, what do you consider your blessings? Perhaps after seeing these two amazing families, you will reconsider and reevaluate the hidden blessings in your own life.