Every Tuesday morning, Whitney Stohr bundles up her 2-year-old son Malachi and tucks him into his stroller for a walk. Malachi loves garbage trucks, and he stares in amazement as the sanitation workers haul bins from the curb and toss the contents away.
Born with spina bifida and encephalitis, Malachi uses a tracheotomy tube and a feeding tube, which makes it hard for him to visit a lot of places. That’s why garbage day is the best — and why it got even better when Waste Management and Seattle Children’s Hospital decided to surprise him in his neighborhood. For starters, workers held up a banner with a message for him: "Tuesdays are our favorite day because of you!"
“They had a special package just for him and it had a little (trash bin) in it, which the second we pulled it out, oh my gosh, his eyes got wide and lit up and he just reached out for it. He’s obsessed with it,” Stohr, 34, told TODAY Parents. “He finds it in his toy box and he’ll sit there and just open it and put things in it. It’s just his favorite thing, his little trash can.”
In his short life, Malachi has spent a lot of time in the hospital. Right after he was born five weeks early via emergency Cesarean section, he needed surgery to close the opening of his spine, a hallmark of spina bifida. Then he had surgery to insert a shunt into his brain to drain the fluid from the encephalitis. He also was born with two holes in his heart, and doctors wanted to wait for him to grow before surgery. But he went into heart failure and they needed to fix them immediately.
“Our first year was really rough, scary, very dramatic,” said Stohr, who lives in the Seattle area. “He just didn’t have any experiences other than experiencing the medical world.”
That’s why garbage day feels like such a big deal.
“He would just be fascinated by these trucks, and he would just stare at up and point to them, and we would follow them around the neighborhood,” Stohr said. “Every time they would stop to pick up a bin, we would stop and we'd watch them. And he was just transfixed through the whole process.”
But for Malachi, nothing has ever seemed as cool as his big surprise day.
“It was amazing,” Stohr said. “For us, community is just so important, and being able to participate and engage in community. For families like ours, that can be really challenging at times. Accessibility is hard in a lot of ways.”
Stohr said Malachi has been thriving since getting a wheelchair in September.
“That mobility piece has been so important because it has given him independence of decision making and to control his world,” Stohr said. “We put up our Christmas tree and he is just obsessed with all the ornaments. He gets right in his wheelchair and makes a beeline for the Christmas tree and just yanks off all the ornaments.”
Stohr said she's grateful that so many people wanted to support her son.
“There are these amazing people that really go out of their way and put so much effort into making your child feel special and seen,” she said. “As parents, I don’t think you could really want more than that.”
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