‘She brought joy everywhere’: Calgary teen paralyzed after fall from swing supported by former classmates

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WATCH: A Calgary school is rallying behind a student after a devasting accident. A 14-year-old girl was paralyzed after falling off a swing last year. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports. – Jan 27, 2020

Eight months after a devastating accident paralyzed 14-year-old Emelee Miller, a Grade 8 student at Bishop Pinkam School in Calgary, her classmates are continuing to rally around her and her family.

“If someone came in at lunch she would just smile and make everybody else feel good. She just radiated a really positive feeling,” said Grade 8 student Caroline Mah.

In June of last year while at a park with her fellow students, Emelee, who has autism spectrum disorder, fell off a swing and suffered serious injuries that left her paralyzed from the chest down.

“I remember seeing fire trucks and everyone was really concerned and worried about her, because she was a great part of our school,” said Grade 8 student Michelle Rath.

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READ MORE: Edmonton-area girl paralyzed after fall adapts to ‘new normal’

The accident devastated Emelee’s teacher in her Communication Sensory and Social Interaction (CSSI) class at Bishop Pinkham.

“It was horrific. When you’re a teacher your students are your kids.  So when something like that happens it hits you about as hard as it would as if it was your own,” said Jolene Ottosen, CSSI teacher at Bishop Pinkham.

The accident also affected the school as a whole.  Ottosen said Bishop Pinkham students have always embraced the school’s class for kids with autism spectrum disorder.

“[Students] said that having a program like ours [CSSI] in our school makes them better because they are taught compassion and understanding for other people,” Ottosen said.

“Understanding that maybe we [the CSSI students] need a little more space when we go through the hallway or coming in and reading with them… it makes them better people, because they have a better understanding of how diverse the needs are of other people,” Ottosen said.
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The accident left many parents here thinking that could have been their child. The school community jumped into action — raising over $8,000 for Emelee’s dad, who has been facing financial struggles and has had to equip his home for a wheelchair plus extra medical expenses.

“He’s grateful for the support.  He’s definitely very appreciative. Just the fact that people are not forgetting. It’s surprising some of the things that aren’t covered. And this is a dad who has been working in oil and gas, so generally doing more subcontracting and working on his own, so [he] doesn’t have the same benefit plan,” Ottosen said.

READ MORE: Paralyzed Calgary graduate walks across the stage to receive diploma

Students at Bishop Pinkham said it’s been a great feeling to take part in the fundraising.

“Our school is like a community, and we all participate and help, and so it was pretty cool that everyone tried to help their best. It’s a shame that we had to,” said Rath.

“We all really loved her even if we didn’t know her that well, we all really enjoyed having her at our school and it felt so good to help her and her family,” said Grade 8 student Lola Doig.

Emelee no longer attends Bishop Pinkham because her needs are just too great since the accident. But students continue to show support with everything from bottle drives to making cards.

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“I brought the cards into the hospital in June and he [Emelee’s dad] was reading them to her and he said, ‘I am going to read you all of these. Your school hasn’t forgotten you.'”

“She can’t be at our school, but we would love to have her at our school again,” Ottosen said.

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