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Community support helps boy with spina bifida; thrilled with special new


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Emmett Francis, 4, has a freedom and mobility he’s never experienced before, thanks to a new wheelchair his parents were able to get for him after numerous fundraisers held over the past few months. The Westville boy has spina bifida and needs the wheelchair and other devices to help get around. Jennifer Vardy Little – The News

WESTVILLE – “My name is Wheels Francis!” Emmett Francis cries as he speeds down the hallway of his Westville home on his new wheels, little brother Liam hot on his heels.

Four-year-old Emmett, who was born with the most severe form of spina bifida and beat the odds just by learning to walk, has never moved so fast. His smile shows just how thrilled he is to be sitting in his brand-new wheelchair.

The $3,600 wheelchair was purchased with the help of several fundraisers held in the community over the past few months. Called the Wheels4Emmett campaign, a walk-a-thon and pre-teen dance were both held, while the Springville Vacation Bible School donated $400 the children had raised for the cause.

“He had the final fitting for his wheelchair the end of July, and we were able to bring it home, everything paid for,” said Emmett’s mom, Charmaine Smith. “Now, he’s always on the go.”

The wheelchair has made a huge difference in his life. It’s much easier to let him play outside now, although all of the wet weather recently has made it impossible to take him on the grass.

“Now we can do things like go on walks, it’s much easier,” Smith said.

A recent trip to the grocery store put a smile on her face.

“We were at Superstore and he wheeled around, he went down every aisle and told people, ‘My name is Emmett, do you like my wheelchair?’ He was so proud of himself,” she recalled. “When he’s in it, he thinks he can take on the world.”

For Emmett, a child who has gone through multiple surgeries for health issues and who faces all his problems with a cheery smile, the wheelchair means he can get around without struggling.

“It’s fun,” he says of his new wheels. “I like riding in it. I like going outside, but also inside. We can play catch and things like that.”

Smith says the family was also able to purchase the $1,000 leg braces he needed with the funds raised, while the family was able to cover the $300 costs for a miniature-sized walker.

It’s hoped that the wheelchair will grow with him for a while, as well as the walker, but it will eventually need to be replaced. The braces, says Smith, will need to be replaced and adjusted more frequently.

“It all depends on his growth rate,” she said. “The walker will last a while, the braces are probably the most frequent thing we’ll need to replace.”

There’s enough money left over from the fundraisers to cover the first adjustment he’ll need, Smith adds. While she knows there will have to be more fundraisers in the coming years as her son’s needs change, she says she just hopes the community will understand what their support means to their family.

“I want to make sure everyone who helped knows how much it means – it’s a small thing, but it’s a very big thing to us,” she said. “All the people who helped by going to the walk, to the dance, the kids at the Vacation Bible School, some people even made donations privately, it’s helped us out immensely. We’ll have to hold more fundraisers in the future, but this part, getting him his wheelchair and giving him this freedom, is what I was worried about.”

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