Plea to Santa is heard far and wide

December 22, 1993|By Knight-Ridder News Service

FORT WAYNE, Ind. -- Little Amy Hagadorn wanted only one day without teasing.

Since the 9-year-old with cerebral palsy made her plea to Santa last week, her days have been a dream of calls, cards, advice, gifts and good wishes from across the country and even Europe and Australia.

Her story appeared first in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, then ++ on Cable News Network and in newspapers nationwide, from Philadelphia to Chicago, Indianapolis to Denver. The Pacific edition of Stars & Stripes picked it up, too. Monday night, Amy was interviewed by public radio's "All Things Considered." Yesterday morning, she reveled in festivities for Amy Hagadorn Day here.

"The response has been overwhelming," her mother, Patti, said.

So overwhelming, in fact, that Patti and her husband, Jim, believe it could obscure the broader message in Amy's simple, awkwardly printed letter: All people should be treated with respect, regardless of whether they are healthy or physically or mentally challenged.

"This has been great for her and for her self-esteem," her mother said. "But let's spread it around a little bit."

Instead of sending gifts to Amy, Patti suggests people "help the other Amys out there" by showing concern for a disabled children in their own communities or agencies that serve disabled kids.

"It's touched the lives of so many," Patti said. "If Amy really realized what she's done, she would be tickled."

Amy asked for Santa's help after hearing about a Letters for Santa promotion on a radio station.

"I have a problem at school," she wrote in pencil. "Kids laugh at me because of the way I walk and run and talk. I have cerebral palsy. I just want one day where no one laughs at me or makes fun of me."

Amy, who walks with a limp and has slightly impaired speech, previously hadn't known the pain of teasing. This fall, she moved from special education classes into a regular third-grade class at her school. Most children have accepted her. But a few tease her.

Her parents have worked with her teacher to curtail teasing. Until the letter, they hadn't realized how much it hurt Amy.

After reading Amy's letter, WJLT staffers decided to give her a special day. Disc jockey Jeff DeWeese interviewed her yesterday on the WJLT morning show. Mayor Paul Helmke proclaimed it Amy Hagadorn Day. Amy beamed as Santa stopped by WJLT to deliver the 3-foot Barbie she has longed for; it was provided by Nisco Pool & Patio Paradise.

At school Friday, her classmates sang for her. Her teacher, Sue Danec, said the children who tease Amy had been kind and supportive.

Support has come from outside the school as well. A local nurse who has cerebral palsy offered to share with Amy the ways she has learned to strengthen her limbs and disguise her disability. A local man offered to send Amy and her sister, Jamie, 13, on a $500 toy shopping spree. The sisters are saving half and used the rest to shop yesterday for toys for themselves and their friends. Kansas group home residents who have cerebral palsy want to become pen pals. A Toronto woman whose son was born with half a skull is mailing a videotape on how children should act around a child with a disability. A Tennessee woman planned to use Amy's story in her Sunday school class.

The response has left Amy and her family marveling at the reaction to her simple letter.

A delighted Amy said: "I think I had my Christmas today."

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