Nature is healing for Olivia Clark.
She loves feeling the wind on her face and looking up at the swaying branches of trees.
She and her mother Jessica look forward to their daily walk around their neighborhood as a chance to spend time together.
So, when Jessica and her husband Bill were contacted by Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana with an offer to grant Olivia a wish, they decided they wanted to bring that sense of peace into the new, accessible home they were building in Hebron.
Now Olivia has her own playroom that brings the beauty of the outdoors inside. A tall tree with twinkling lights climbs one wall, and a butterfly mural decorates another. She can nap or watch her favorite movies under a ceiling of painted clouds.
“It’s been a huge blessing,” Jessica said. “It’s important that she has some happiness in the midst of all the chaos around her.”
A medical roller coaster ride
When Olivia was 8 months old, she suddenly developed high fevers. She was found unresponsive one morning and rushed to the hospital. Tests revealed that she’d had a massive seizure caused by the HSVI virus.
The virus caused significant brain damage, resulting in global development delays, cerebral palsy and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome — a severe form of epilepsy that causes numerous kinds of seizures.
The Clarks were living in New Albany when Olivia was released from the hospital and began receiving early intervention in Franklin County. They moved to Pataskala when Olivia was a toddler and transitioned into services from the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
Her diagnoses and regular seizures make learning difficult for Olivia. She’s had to relearn to walk and eat numerous times and often loses skills with each medical setback.
Her health can deteriorate quickly, and she’s been in and out of Nationwide Children’s Hospital frequently for surgeries and unplanned admissions. Her parents and medical team have had to become “medical detectives” to figure out the best ways to support her.
“Olivia is always happy even though she has a lot working against her,” Jessica said. “But in the midst of all this adversity, she’s always doing it with grace and happiness. She’s happy all the time.”
Bringing a vision to life
As Olivia grew and her medical complexity increased, it became clear to her parents that their house in Pataskala was no longer meeting their needs. Olivia’s medical supplies filled every room, and the size of the house made it difficult for her to get around.
They decided to buy land in Hebron and build an accessible home that would offer Olivia what she needed to be safe and comfortable.
“We don’t go on vacations, so we splurged on this house,” Jessica said. “We wanted to make it as nice as we could for all of us.”
Construction took several years and was delayed during the COVID-19 pandemic. But the timing ended up being ideal for Make-A-Wish. The room was completed just as construction was wrapping up.
Playrooms are a popular wish choice that can be tailored to each child’s needs and interests, Katie Ferrell, director of marketing and communications for Make-A-Wish Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, wrote in an email.
“A lot of people do trips, but I wanted something that would be forever,” Jessica said. “I had a vision for what I wanted it to look like.”
Rooms like Olivia’s are the result of generous support through donations, fundraisers and local volunteers, Ferrell wrote.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to grant Olivia’s wish and give her a space to make happy memories with her family for years to come,” she wrote.
Becky Sturm, a local designer who volunteers for Make-A-Wish as a creative environments director, was able to help the Clark’s bring their vision to life.
Sturm has an adult daughter with disabilities who receives support from the Delaware County Board of Developmental Disabilities.
“I can bring my expertise along and help families in thinking outside the box about their needs and how to meet them,” she said.
Olivia loves looking at the large trees that decorate Nationwide Children’s Hospital, so having a tree was a major focus.
Movement is very important to Olivia, so the space needed room to roam with a soft floor so she could walk around safely.
Her Aunt Heather Miller painted the butterfly mural on one wall, and Sturm added sensory toys and a soft nest of pillows.
“We got to implement things that were all brand new to her, something she’d never experienced before,” Sturm said. “For me personally, my most enjoyable aspect of any room is to bring something to the family that they didn’t know they wanted or needed just because of my own expertise.”
A peaceful place
Olivia doesn’t use words to communicate. But when her family moved into the new house in 2022, she walked into her playroom and her spirit came alive, her mother said.
“This house has impacted Olivia in ways that can’t be described,” Jessica said. “She knows this is her house and she has her own place to enjoy.”
Whenever they come back from the hospital, it’s clear Olivia is excited to be home. Jessica said she will always be grateful to Make-A-Wish for giving them this gift.
“I can never make the chaos in her brain go away,” she said. “I wanted to give her a space to enjoy and she is happy every time she walks into her playroom. It was important to me that she had a place that brought her joy.”
The Clarks are working with Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities Service Coordinator Kim Burke to plan for Olivia’s care as she grows and utilizing a state waiver.
While her medical future will always be complicated, Jessica and Bill have learned to appreciate the simple things.
“Olivia can give great hugs and her smile warms your heart,” Jessica said. “I feel so blessed we are able to give her the best life.”
Anna Jeffries is the public information officer for the Licking County Board of Developmental Disabilities. For more information about Early Intervention in Licking County, go to https://lcountydd.org/birth-to-3/. To make an EI referral, please call 1-800-755-4769. You can also make a secure online referral at http://bit.ly/ReferToHMG.