School nurse seeks online votes to help Arlington Heights girl win van
As a one-to-one school nurse at Kirk School in Palatine, Christine Walas attends to the complex medical needs of 6-year old Elizabeth Munoz of Arlington Heights.
Elizabeth was born with a rare seizure disorder, which has impaired her physical and developmental growth, Walas says, and resulted in her medical fragility.
She has needed a feeding tube since birth, breathes through a tracheostomy and requires 24-hour care. But it is Elizabeth's lack of mobility and dependence on a wheelchair that motivated her nurse even further.
Walas enrolled Elizabeth in an online contest sponsored this month by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers' Association.
The organization is giving away four wheelchair-accessible vehicles to "local heroes" who embody the spirit of life moving forward.
Voting ends on Sunday. The top 10 percent of those enrolled advance to the final round, where a panel of judges determines the winners.
"Through all of her challenges, Elizabeth keeps smiling," Walas said. "She shows such perseverance and strength as she strives to be included in everyday life."
The same organization awarded a van to Steve Herbst of Palatine in 2013, while this year, Diane Berry of Arlington Heights also enrolled in the contest to win a van that would help transport her 8-year-old daughter, Grace, who suffers from cerebral palsy. Her story was in the Daily Herald May 15; she has more than 10,000 votes so far.
"I really don't feel like we're competing with one another," Walas said. "We're just trying to get to the next level."
As of Friday, Elizabeth had drawn more than 5,500 votes, which Walas feels is approaching the 10 percent mark.
Elizabeth is the youngest of three children of Patricha Onyeise and Lawrence Munoz, who currently drive a four-door, 2002 sedan.
"Elizabeth received a new wheelchair in October, but it must be broken down and stored in the trunk for the family to travel, making mobility difficult," Walas said. "And their car does not have air conditioning, which is crucial for a child with chronic respiratory disease."
The National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association is a nonprofit organization, based in Tampa, Florida, and is dedicated to expanding mobility options for people with disabilities.
This is the fourth year its 600 dealers have sponsored National Mobility Awareness Month and sponsored the contest.
To date, more than 800 local heroes have been enrolled. After voting ends, the organization's members will determine winners in four categories: one to a caregiver, one to a senior, one that is battery powered for in-town driving only, and one in the general category.
"The family is desperately in need of a wheelchair-accessible van that would allow them to transport Elizabeth to doctors' appointments, school, therapies and family outings," Walas said.
"She is my local hero," she added. "Her family deserves to have their strength and love rewarded."
To vote, visit mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/elizabeth-munoz-arlington-heights-il/. A video featuring Munoz is also located there.