Casey's dream: Waterville teen overcomes obstacles, dreams of Florida trip - Faribault MN: News

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Casey's dream: Waterville teen overcomes obstacles, dreams of Florida trip

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Posted: Saturday, October 27, 2012 6:45 pm | Updated: 10:09 am, Fri Nov 2, 2012.

The sound of fingers gently strumming a guitar flows smoothly from the bedroom.

The girl responsible for the music — 14- year-old Casey McGraw — sits with the guitar resting on her lap, angled perfectly so she can pick at each chord effortlessly.

She only breaks to tell her audience — made up of her parents and two younger siblings — about the next piece she is learning and how the song is typically played in rounds. Otherwise, the teenager plays whatever her heart desires. One minute she just barely touches each chord, the next she strums harder, causing her sister and brother to giggle with delight.

When the session ends, Casey’s dad removes the strap from around her neck and takes the guitar from her lap.

The black back brace is put back on. Her wheelchair is repositioned to face the door, so she can more easily work her way out of the room.

And just like that, Casey McGraw is back into the real world.

Casey has endured significant physical challenges caused by cerebral palsy each and every day of her life. She is also visually impaired — though she hasn’t let either barrier get in the way of how she lives her life.

Casey keeps an upbeat personality, something the volunteers at the Minnesota Dream Catcher Chapter of the Sunshine Foundation say they were moved by when hearing Casey’s story. Family members recently referred Casey and her family to the organization, which works to grant wishes for children with disabilities. Casey’s dream is to go to the theme parks in Orlando, Fla., with her entire family — something the family couldn’t afford to do otherwise given the added costs of handicap accommodations.

Casey has been confined to a wheelchair since she was just 3 years old, shortly after she was diagnosed with quadra-spastic cerebral palsy, which effects all of her limbs. The back brace helps with the spinal curvature.

She was born premature, leading to severe nerve damage in her eyes that has left her with a visual impairment. She isn’t blind — she can see directly in front of her — but she has days where she can’t see anything at all. Two years ago she found a new home for her education and development at the Minnesota State Academy for the Blind in Faribault.

“There are so many teachers there that help me,” Casey says.

The new environment has allowed Casey to feel even more at ease and comfortable. Her fellow students have needs similar to hers, and she can more easily interact and feel part of a group.

Not that Casey has ever let her impairments get in her way of enjoying life.

Casey is your typical teenage girl. She likes Hannah Montana (both the TV show and the singer’s music) and country-pop singer Taylor Swift. But she also takes time to listen to the classics — Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” is among her favorite songs, along with a few hits from Elvis.

And like any teenage girl, there’s a boy she just can’t stop gushing about even when mom Gabe McGraw teases her about not getting married until she’s 30.

When she’s not watching TV with her sister Emma, 9, and brother Timothy, 6, Casey can be found in her bedroom playing her guitar and listening to music.

Her room is filled with few surprises — the pink walls are covered with pictures of her favorite singers, a stick-on Tinkerbell is near her bed, and a purple butterfly hangs from the ceiling.

She bought the guitar two years ago so she could play along to Johnny Cash, though she now is learning to play other songs with the help of her music teacher at MSAB. After attending grade school in Waterville, her parents chose to transfer her to the school for a more specialized education.

“Her teachers in Waterville did great with her and she loved it there, but she had kind of plateaued,” said dad Travis McGraw. “She’s just able to do so much more at MSAB because that’s what they do, they’re able to adapt to the student’s needs more.”

And they’ve seen a difference, too — while Casey would sit quietly during music programs and plays before, a favorite memory of Gabe’s is watching her daughter move around excitedly during a Christmas concert at MSAB last year.

“She was dancing and singing with everyone else,” Gabe recalls. “She just lit up, and it was so moving to watch.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Casey’s favorite subject is music. The class, she explains, is taught by a woman who has inspired Casey to want to become a music teacher herself.

“She’s a role model of mine,” Casey says. “She’s the best teacher ever.”

Not that Casey doesn’t like her other classes, or school in general, for that matter. When talking about the proposed trip to Orlando, Fla., Casey has one rule: It can’t be scheduled for while school is in session.

Casey is one of six children from Minnesota on a waiting list with the Minnesota Dream Catchers Chapter of the Sunshine Foundation, which is an all-volunteer chapter. The Sunshine Foundation has granted more than 36,000 dreams since 1976 for children who are physically challenged, chronically ill, or have been abused.

Many children on the wait list dream of going to Florida, according to chapter president Kelly Anderson. There, the Sunshine Foundation puts families up at Dream Village, which is owned by the organization. But costs go beyond lodging — a total of $5,000 is needed to cover air fare, car rental, theme park tickets and some spending money for the McGraw family.

So far, community members have donated $1,600 to go toward Casey’s dream trip.

“It means so much to us,” Gabe said. “We don’t get very many chances to have a break from our normal life or to do something special like this. It would be amazing for the whole family to be able to go and have a fun, relaxing time together.”

But for the outgoing, bubbly 14 year old, the trip is just one more way to meet new people, laugh with her family, and play out the life of a typical girl.

Reach reporter Rebecca Rodenborg at 333-3128, or follow her on @FDNRebecca

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