Disney Wish Fulfilled

Published 6:00 pm Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Hightower family from Summit has seentheir share of trials and tribulations throughout the years.

    Evan and Belinda Hightower have two sons, Blake, 16, and Aaron, 9.Both have Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a genetic disease weakeningvoluntary muscles in which the survival rate into the early 30s israre, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

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    Jane Walsh, development manager for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, isnot unfamiliar with the Hightower family.

    Last year, the foundation granted Blake’s wish to go to Disneylandin California, and Wednesday she and wish granter James Conan cameto Regions Bank in Brookhaven to grant Aaron his wish to go toDisneyworld.

    “You don’t think day-to-day how blessed we all really are until youget involved with something like this,” said Russ Lewis, branchmanager for the Brookhaven Regions Bank office.

    The branch hosted the grant party because it raised the most moneyfor the foundation by selling paper stars and garnering outsidedonations, according to Walsh.

    “We had a contest among branches this past summer, and we raisedthe most to get to do the party,” Lewis said. “It’s been great, tohave a little town like Brookhaven and get that much response.”

    Walsh said the branch raised more than $3,000.

    Aaron’s is one of 124 wishes granted this fiscal year, Walsh said.His parents said he is looking forward to seeing his wishunfold.

    The family will travel to Orlando, Fla., on Nov. 19 and enjoy threedays at the main attractions of Disneyworld, such as the Epcottheme park, the Animal Kingdom and the Magic Kingdom. Then it’s oneday at Universal Studios followed by a day at SeaWorld before theyreturn home Nov. 26.

    Bank employees, the Hightowers and the foundation members enjoyed aMickey Mouse cake and other snacks and drinks at the branch, andAaron received his itinerary for his trip of a lifetime.

    Conan presented Aaron with a packet and went through all the placeshe could visit and where his family would be staying.

    Aaron was diagnosed with the disease just last year, but has used awheelchair since he was 7.

    Evan Hightower said they noticed Aaron’s symptoms when he was ababy, but they didn’t find out officially until last year.

    “We really didn’t want to know,” he said. “It wouldn’t have changedmuch.”

    Both their sons are in motorized wheelchairs, and their fatheradded his own special touch to the head rests. He outfitted eachwith speakers and plugs for iPods.

    The Hightowers said Blake enjoyed his wish last year as he got tomeet Chip Foose, star of a TV car show called “Overhaulin’.”

    They are excited about the upcoming trip and are grateful forpeople like those at the Make-A-Wish Foundation who help to makechildren’s lives better.

    Lewis said he was excited to be hosting the party for Aaron and hisfamily, and he reiterated his amazement of them and the communityfor showing its support.

    “In today’s economy, you almost just take care of your own, butpeople in Brookhaven have really come out,” he said. “It’s beenamazing to be a part of something like this.”