In some ways, Caitlin Smith is no different than any other 19-year-old girl.
She likes boys, and religiously watches “Home Makeover: Extreme Edition,” mostly because of its star, Ty Pennington. Last week, she was on prom court at her high school, Clinton-Massie, and will graduate in May.
But in other ways, she is different. Caitlin suffers from multiple disabilities, including muscular sclerosis, seizures and scoliosis. She uses a wheelchair and is not verbal, but her facial expressions tell all.
“Even with everything she’s been through, she is one of the happiest people and always has a smile,” said her mother, Susan Smith.
Caitlin’s smile was on full display last month when she had the opportunity to meet Pennington in Washington, D.C. Kids Wish Network, an organization devoted to improving the well-being and quality of life for sick children nationwide, arranged the trip which included a special tour of the city in the family of four’s own full-size tour bus and a stay at a fancy hotel.
Caitlin first became a fan of Pennington when he hosted the decorating TV show “Trading Spaces.”
The Smiths met Pennington at a garden show where he was performing. He spent about 15 minutes of one-on-one time with Caitlin, gave her an autographed book and a $500 gift card to Sears.
“She was just in awe over him — she absolutely lit up,” Susan said. “He was as friendly in person as he appears to be on TV.”
Caitlin loves people who are high energy, and Pennington’s comical on the show which is appealing to her, Susan said. Caitlin chose to meet Pennington over teen heart-throb Justin Bieber, actor Will Smith and wrestler John Cena.
“She might make a different decision now,” Susan laughed.
Upon returning to the hotel, the staff had prepared a gift bag which included a book about the hotel’s history, signed by all the employees.
During the tour, the family stopped at Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown. Susan noticed how precise the guards movements were, but when one handed a rifle back to a solider, he caught Caitlin out of corner of his eye, Susan later learned. As he was leaving, Dontae Skywalker, a relief commander at the Tomb, scraped his foot.
“I thought he had made a mistake,” Susan confessed. It was when the family was leaving that Skywalker came running up to reveal that he had done it intentionally. It’s a movement done to honor wounded veterans.
“He did that in honor of Caitlin. We were all crying,” Susan said. “To me, that was almost comparable to meeting with Ty.”
The Smiths received the trip in an ironic way. Susan is a regular donor to the Kids Wish Network, but last time the organization called for a donation, funds were a bit too tight.
“I told the lady I had my own handicapped child and before she hung up the phone she asked about my situation and that started the conversation,” Susan recalled. “Next thing I know, we’re submitting paperwork.”
She later discovered that Caitlin’s doctor had submitted her name for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, as well. Since, she has contacted the foundation to ask them to seek another worthy child.
Tonya Canby, a nurse for special education students at Clinton-Massie, accompanied the family on the trip to assist with Caitlin’s care. The district has exceeded her expectations in creating an atmosphere conducive to her daughter’s needs, she said.
“From the students to principals to the superintendent, they have been incredible,” she said. “Honest to God, they’ve treated her like royalty.”
The phrase is more than a metaphor. Caitlin was voted a member of the 2012 prom court, and had a date “who was amazing with her, and made sure her night was everything it could be,” Smith said.
The Clinton-Massie students came together and said if she didn’t win as prom queen, they would crown her as prom princess.
Caitlin is currently serving as the 2012 Prom Princess.
“For them to acknowledge Caitlin and make her a part of the school — it’s like they don’t even see the differences in her,” Susan said. “I think she’s absolutely gorgeous, of course, but she does have physical limitations. They don’t treat her like that. She is so well-loved.”
Wilmington News Journal