Girl's infectious joy spreads story of generous gift online

Girl's infectious joy spreads story of generous gift online

A Portland family wants to spread a message of gratitude for the support of friends and thousands of strangers on social media.

And they want to thank one stranger in particular: the anonymous donor who allowed Eric Benson and his wife to give their daughter, Emily, the perfect gift for her 12th birthday: a wheelchair-accessible van.

“Somebody went way out of their way to make this happen,” Benson said. “I don't know how to express to that person what a big deal this is.”

But that was only the beginning of their story.

Emily Benson suffers from Spina Bifida, a developmental disorder that affects the bones of the spine. She has endured more than 30 surgeries with her positive outlook widely applauded by family and friends.

But despite her can-do attitude, she is not able to move around without a wheelchair.

Footage of Emily’s surprise when she first saw the wheelchair-accessible van spread like wildfire on Facebook. After the Bensons’ story went viral, well-wishers from around the country contacted the family with supportive comments.

Now Emily’s parents hope their daughter’s infectious joy can send another message, this time about mobility. Accessible transportation like the new van can be expensive, Benson explained. And it is precious.

“It’s a game changer for us,” Benson said.

Before they had the van, in order to drive their daughter to and from school, doctor’s appointments and other necessary engagements, Emily’s parents had to manually lift their daughter into a car seat and then load her wheelchair using a ramp.

All that lifting took a toll.

“My wife has had two hernia surgeries,” Benson said. “And my back is shot.”

However, because of prior financial difficulties, the Bensons said they could not afford to buy better transportation.

“All of that changed with this gift,” he said.

The timing was perfect.

Just days before Christmas, the Bensons received money from an anonymous stranger. They used the $25,000 to make a down payment on the van. It arrived Dec. 26, Emily’s 12th birthday.

They posted a note on Facebook for friends and family and more than 100 people arrived at a Michael’s in Northeast Portland to watch the Bensons surprise their daughter.

Emily’s face transformed as she moved toward the van. Shock became a wide smile.

And her joy, so apparent when the surprise was revealed, has helped her story to resonate.

Actor George Takei posted a link to video of Emily’s reaction on his Facebook page on Sunday. Since then, more than 1,000 people have shared the post.

Now, Eric Benson wants to use that national platform to thank the stranger who made it possible for his family to purchase the van.

He also said he hopes his daughter’s story can jump start conversations on behalf of families of children with Spina Bifida who still need help making ends meet.

“People are going to talk about it,” Benson said, adding he wants the message to be about more than just the van itself.

“Somebody went way out of their way to do this and changed our lives through a gift."