When Matthew Helton was only 17 weeks gestation, his parents, Jennifer and Rick Helton, knew he was special. Diagnosed at that time with Dandy-Walker Malformation, Matthew’s brain was not developing normally because of the build-up of cerebrospinal fluid caused by his disease. Doctors gave them little hope that their son would survive.
Undeterred, but with the ever-present worries about the pressure on his developing brain, Matthew’s parents bravely awaited his birth. He was whisked away to have a shunt put in his brain to drain the fluid, and the family prepared themselves for the worst.
But the worst never came, and they had no idea at the time what impact this child would have.
Confined to a wheelchair and relying on others for his basic daily care, Matthew has disabilities that limit activities most take for granted, such as going to school, seeing a movie or grabbing dinner out. Now divorced, Matthew’s parents, Jennifer and Rick, do their best to provide all the experiences he can handle. Although Matthew struggles with seizures and other issues, he maintains an active schedule and is graduating this spring from Saint Peter Catholic School in Huber Heights and heading to Wayne High School in the fall.
“Matthew loves to be around other kids,” says his mother Jennifer. “He is wired differently, but thrives in a regular classroom.”
Advocating on his behalf, Jennifer and two other mothers started an organization called SPICE (Special People in Catholic Education) at Saint Peter Catholic School that raises money to address education needs in each unique child. SPICE was able to raise funds for an elevator and other wheelchair-accessible facilities. Matthew is also part of a group advocating for a bill in the Ohio Senate aptly named for him. Sponsored by Sen. Peggy Lehner, Matthew’s Bill would require newer buildings to have larger changing facilities for people with disabilities.
Matthew also qualified for a Special Wish through the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation (ASW). Since he loves the water and the soothing, weightless feeling of floating, the choice of a hot tub was an obvious one and a wish to last for years to come.
Bringing together wish families and the community, the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation has granted over 1,600 wishes since 1983. Matthew’s special wish became a reality as part of a group effort spearheaded by ASW. A longtime ASW board member, John Siehl, heard about Matthew’s Special Wish and donated his hot tub. ASW contacted Hot Spring Spas in Dayton to help. More than willing to help, especially since another Wish mom, Becky Schuh, is employed there, Hot Springs Spas generously donated the move and refurbishment of the spa and two years of worry-free maintenance.
Jennifer recalls, “The pride the Hot Springs Spa staff took in what they were doing was so genuine. Matthew knew it was all just for him, and he was beaming.”
Finally, a fundraiser at Wayne High School covered the electrical updates to the Helton’s home for the spa and chemicals for two years. For over 20 years, the Junior Cabinet at Wayne High School has hosted a volleyball tournament between staff and students, raising over $27,000 for ASW during that time. Pairing Matthew with this fundraiser was the perfect match. The students and faculty hosted Matthew and his family for the event and introduced him to his new school family at Wayne High School.
“Wayne really did it up for Matthew, “says Jennifer, “It was amazing for him to be there and for me to get a feel for his new school setting. We were both so excited!”
Matthew has impacted the Helton family and the community in so many ways. Talking about Matthew and his brothers, Ryan and Alex, says Jennifer, “I have three very strong boys.” She knows that their family has been blessed because “he came into the world.”
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Susan Gnann is the marketing and development manager for the Dayton Chapter of A Special Wish Foundation.