“Helping people in their time of need & providing more opportunities for people with disabilities to live happier & healthier lives” - The Sam's Wish Mission
For most expecting parents, preparing for the arrival of a newborn means constructing a nursery, planning a baby shower, opening a baby registry, parenthood sessions, and routine check-ups. However, for Juan Romero Sr. and wife Marcel, life would take their family down a much more complicated path. During the 8th week of Marcel’s pregnancy, she contracted a potentially life-threatening virus.
“We began worrying about our future child’s well-being,” said Juan Sr. “But after we went to the hospital for an emergency visit, it seemed everything would be fine.”
However, almost 30 weeks into the pregnancy, they realized Juan Diego Romero Jr.’s head wasn’t developing properly, and Marcel’s amniotic fluid was dangerously low.
“We rushed to the hospital and there the doctors recommended performing an emergency caesarean section,” said Juan Sr. “From there, our baby boy suffered from hypoxiation. In that moment we began educating ourselves on the effects of microcephaly and hypoxia consequences and how they affect the neuro-motor development.”
It was later discovered Juan Jr. would suffer from cerebral palsy and brain damage, causing him to be nonverbal. But that didn’t prevent Juan Sr. and Marcel from the overwhelming feelings of joy, love, and excitement. Their entire lives were now wrapped in the tiniest bundle of joy.
For the next four years, Juan Jr. would be dependent on his parents to complete even the simplest of tasks. Struggling to combat his condition and having limited funds for a mobility solution to promote a more independent lifestyle, his parent’s only option was to carry him everywhere.
That is until their guardian angel strolled through the pews of their community church. A fellow parishioner witnessed Marcel carrying Juan Jr. through the church corridor and felt compelled to make an introduction. After a casual conversation, the parishioner revealed their family endured a similar issue with their child and worked with an organization called Sam’s Wish to help restore their child’s independence. Provided with Sam’s Wish contact information, Marcel raced home to contact the organization. Heather Stephenson, founder of Sam’s Wish, took the call and instantly connected with the Romero family. It became her personal mission to find a solution for Juan Jr.
Nearly three decades ago, Heather’s family encountered a similar situation when her brother, Sam, was diagnosed with down syndrome. Sam was like any other boy. He enjoyed playing, laughing, and spending time with friends and family, but he also harbored a deep passion for athletics and dreamed of one day competing in the Special Olympics. As he began struggling with his condition, he felt it would prevent him from achieving his life-long dream. Heather refused to let her brother become discouraged and wanted to create a program to encourage, train, and push him to overcome his adversities, thus Sam’s Wish was born.
After the success of Sam’s Wish, Heather extended her organization to others struggling with disabilities in her community and has helped hundreds of children and adults with disabilities overcome adversities and live independent lifestyles.
“Starting a not-for-profit organization has been a dream of mine for years,” said Founder of Sam’s Wish Heather Stephenson. “After volunteering for Special Olympics for 20 years, it was obvious that I was being led in a new direction of giving. I have so much to give and am excited to do it more than ever!”
Realizing funds were tight for the Romero's, Heather started a donation campaign to raise money for Juan Jr.’s mobility solution. With the overwhelming support of their local community, Sam’s Wish quickly reached their donation goal and Heather placed an order for an adaptive stroller from a notable equipment supplier. But months went by without a single order update.
With Juan Jr.’s condition progressively worsening, Heather scoured for another solution. Turning to her network of friends, she reached out to Rehab Medical’s Chief Executive Officer Patrick McGinley. Determined to improve this amazing little boy’s life, McGinley and the Rehab Medical team stepped in to offer support for the Romero family.
“Thank you to Patrick McGinley and Rehab Medical for supporting Juan,” said Heather. “Sam’s Wish is incredibly grateful for your donation to this amazing little boy. Your gift is making a huge difference in his family’s life. We are so fortunate to have caught the attention of people like you with generous hearts.”
A few short months later, Juan Jr. was presented with a custom-fit manual wheelchair by McGinley and Rehab Medical Vice President of Operations Jarrad Rankin, as well as Heather and Sam McNew from Sam’s Wish.
“Working with Juan and the Sam’s Wish organization was truly a great experience,” said Vice President of Operations Jarrad Rankin. “Juan has an infectious smile and is a joy to be around. I am glad we were able to pull together the resources needed to help the family with his mobility challenges. Hopefully, this is just the start of a long enjoyable relationship to ensure Juan and his family have the best complex technology and service available to suit their future needs.”
As part of Rehab Medical’s mission to improve lives, the company donated the new custom wheelchair so the Romero family could focus on their son’s newfound mobility freedom.
“We are truly grateful for Sam’s Wish and Rehab Medical for making this a reality,” said Marcel. “Juan Jr.’s new chair helps him out a lot with his physical stability while he’s doing daily activities at home and at school. We’re grateful the chair helps facilitate his transfers and we no longer have to carry him all the time.”
Juan Jr.’s wheelchair has given him a new sense of freedom and independence allowing him and his family to enjoy the little things like playing outside, going to church, and the endless supply of smiles and laughs.
"We are always excited to partner with great organizations like Sam's Wish who share our mission to improve lives," said McGinley. "We appreciate everything Heather and her team does to support the local community and are grateful to be able to support those efforts."