‘Mama, this is the guy from the airplane I made friends with!’ She called Greg her BFF. Only 4 months later, she was dead.’: Mom wants others to know the impact of ‘difference makers’ after daughter dies from heart surgery

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“In August 2019, I shared our story of love and loss of our brave heart hero. A few more months have passed, and with that time, a little less fog in our weary, mourning hearts has occurred. The message ‘Let them march to the beat of their own drum,’ still resonates and we still share her silly, eclectic antics. But today, I want to talk about Difference Makers. All of us can be a difference-maker. I want to share with you the story of our Difference Maker(s).

In February 2019, our precious Amie was approaching her next open heart surgery. It was the most complex to date and at 14, she was certainly well aware of the pain she could expect after the surgery. Her vivid memories of the last open heart still haunted her. She shared with me many times, she didn’t want to die. We did our best to reassure her and help her with professionals, but maybe she knew something we didn’t.

I had started planning little fun things before her surgeries or procedures. Before her open heart surgery at age 7, we planned a weekend girls trip to a waterpark in the Dells. So as we approached this surgery last year, the thought came to me, this time it would be a surprise to her. She probably hadn’t connected the dots I tried to take her on adventures before surgeries, but she was always up for an adventure! A place that she loved, and asked for often, was Great Wolf Lodge

The adventure-planning began. Two of my sisters and my niece were going to meet us in Chicago at Great Wolf Lodge. We each made our travel arrangements. Amie and I would be flying from Louisiana to Chicago. The morning came, I let her get dressed for school, and then as she came into the kitchen to get her breakfast, I handed her a note. Inside the note read, ‘Would you like some mommy-daughter time?’ with a picture of hot cocoa and a picture of donuts. She was always wanting to go out for mommy-daughter time to have cocoa and donuts. Her delight was palpable as she thought she was just in for a breakfast treat before school. We jumped in the car and headed over to Café Du Monde, not exactly donuts, but we consider them just a fancy donut.

Courtesy Dawn Miller

At Café Du Monde, I secretly handed the clerk a sealed envelope with Amie’s name on it and a small note on top that said something to the effect I was working on a surprise trip for my daughter before her surgery and could she bring this note out to her while we were seated? She did and Amie opened her next note that stated, ‘Wanna play hooky from school? What should we do?’ with a picture of an airplane. It took her a few minutes to read the word hooky. She kept stating ‘hooey,’ so I explained the meaning and she excitedly said, ‘Yes!’ I asked what the clue meant and she pretty quickly figured out we were going on a plane, but she wasn’t sure where and I wouldn’t tell her.

At the airport, my next note was handed to the ticket agent as we checked in, for it to be given to Amie at the gate. Amie quickly registered we were heading to Chicago, which had been several previous destinations for shopping trips. At the gate, the agent brought Amie over a stuffed airplane plushy, a Saints key chain, and the note. She also changed our seating to priority. Our first Difference Maker was totally unexpected and amazing! Amie opened this note and it read, ‘Now we are here, where should we go?’ with a picture of a snowflake. I hadn’t really thought through my hints since she obviously heard and saw at the gate we were going to Chicago. It was still great.

When it was time to board the plane, we were one of the first ones on the plane, which meant we got to pick the beautiful front seats! As we entered the plane, I secretly handed the next note to someone who would become one of the most amazing difference-makers ever, Greg, flight attendant extraordinaire! Greg was super sweet, attentive, and made Amie feel like royalty or a celebrity, as he stated later. The flight was great. Greg asked Amie to help pass out pretzels and she adored it. Greg did an amazing job of keeping all the rest of the guests taken care of, but stopping by to interact with Amie often.

Courtesy Dawn Miller

Towards the end of the flight, Greg got on the speaker and took Amie’s next note to the next level. He wanted to introduce the ‘celebrity’ on board, Amie, and gave a little talk that she was skipping school for a treasured weekend trip, so don’t tell her teacher. He then stated there was a note he needed to give her and gave her the next clue. Amie opened it and eventually figured out the hints. She was on her way to Great Wolf Lodge! The look on her face was beyond amazing and all the more special because of Greg and of the little things he did to make this amazing for her. We stayed behind on the plane, got pictures of Greg and Amie, and the pilot let Amie sit in the cockpit. I think she floated off that plane, rather than walked.

Courtesy Dawn Miller

We had a great time at Great Wolf Lodge and unforgettable quality family time with my sisters and niece. Little did we know, we only had a few months left. This would be the last girls trip adventure we would ever be able to take together.

After returning home, I sent an inbox message to Southwest, sharing the video of Greg announcing the note and the interaction with Amie. I wanted them to know what an amazing employee Greg was and what a difference he made. The person who replied spoke highly of the Southwest goal to be a part of special stories. She wanted to send Amie a gift from the corporate office. Amie received the gift a few weeks later: a stuffed bear and a gift card. I received the most precious text from my daughter that afternoon, ‘Mama, this is the guy from the airplane I made friends with.’ She called Greg her friend and BFF from the minute they started talking on the plane. It’s true that as a special needs child, she didn’t always understand what being a friend meant. When she called Greg her friend, her BFF, she truly felt it and meant it.

Amie lived for another four months after this incredible trip. Her surgery got postponed twice because of infections. We used that gift card and took a trip to Florida before the next scheduled surgery and when it was delayed again, we made one more trip to Chicago to drive across the state to visit family. Damn, I’m so glad we did, because she had only 9 days left on this earth after that trip and only 4 days of ‘living’ before surgery.

Courtesy Dawn Miller

This week marks the one-year anniversary of that trip. With tears marking the different time stamps along that day, I shared the journey as I did a year ago to her Facebook group and to my Facebook page. Two new difference-makers made it their mission to find Greg and share with him what an impact he made on Amie’s life. The first difference-maker is a mom I met on Facebook many years ago when we both were trying to understand the genetic journey our children were on. She is a flight attendant for another airline, but she connected with her friend, who is a flight attendant at Southwest. Within a few hours, she had found Greg and shared the videos with him! It was so amazing these two ladies took time out of their Saturday to figure out the mystery with just a photo and a video to find Greg and let him know the impact his kindness had.

There have been many other difference-makers along Amie’s journey. She had an amazing Make a Wish trip when she was four. Her wish maker helped us understand and make decisions on what we could do to make an incredible memory. We stayed at Give Kids the World, an organization that will forever be an amazing part of Amie’s story. Amie has had teachers who have gone above and beyond trying to help her navigate in a ‘typical’ world when she was quite unique. She spent countless hours being accepted by peers and adults alike at the different social things she was in, from church to girl scouts to dance to gymnastics.

Courtesy Dawn Miller

Over the years, Amie has come to really cherish some of the people I have worked with. She would meet them when she came in for therapy or another imaging procedure. They all loved her and would play along, from Jay hissing back at her when she would hiss at him to Al teasing her when she would tell people she didn’t like my dancing or my hair. There were so many difference-makers in her life, so many amazing interactions. Her life here on earth is over, but her life will never be forgotten, especially with all the people she touched along the way.

Every interaction, every journey, every moment we interact with others, we can be a difference-maker. There are times when I know I have been a difference-maker, and there are times when I reflect back and think, I could have or should have done something different. I leave you with this, what things can you do to be a difference-maker in an ordinary time? How can you turn ordinary into extraordinary? It doesn’t have to be elaborate. As you read above, Greg only gave time and attention. I say ‘only’ because I want to emphasize he didn’t need to give anything extraordinary to turn the ordinary into extraordinary. It’s in the interactions, not the things. We all can truly Love What Matters and be a difference-maker.”

This story was written by Dawn Miller, 55, of Louisiana. Follow Amie’s journey on Facebook here.  Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories from Dawn here: 

‘We lost our precious Amie. We knew surgery was coming. She was in the best hands. Try as he might, we lost her.’: Mom’s emotional journey to adopting their ‘fierce, spunky’ daughter, only to lose her 2 months ago

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