Mom’s efforts get national attention

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Sabrina Wisher with her daughter Mikayla at Wisher Salvage in Kalispell on March 13.

Sabrina Wisher doesn’t see herself as anyone special.

Others find her life story something extraordinary, though, especially how she has cared for a special-needs child for nearly 23 years. And how she has started a nonprofit organization to help other disabled children.

That’s why Wisher, 45, has been named Montana’s Mother of the Year by American Mothers, a national organization that has been honoring mothers since it was founded in 1935 by Sara Delano Roosevelt, Mamie Eisenhower, J.C. Penney and Norman Vincent Peale.

The Montana Governor’s Office nominated Wisher for the state award and she’s headed to Colorado next month for the national competition. It’s a prestigious affair where she will give a speech on the theme, “Moving Forward. Making a Difference.”

There’s a gala to attend, too.

“I had to google ‘gala,’” Wisher said with a laugh. “So I bought a gown. I’m usually wearing Carhartts and work boots.”

Wisher, a single mother of four, is the office manager at Wisher’s Auto Recycling, a salvage business started by her grandfather, Clem Wisher, and run by her father, Jerry. Two days a week she brings daughter Mikayla to work with her.

Mikayla, who turns 23 in May, was born with Aicardi Syndrome, a genetic disorder so rare that doctors have tracked only a few hundred cases worldwide. The disorder — theorized to result from a defect on an X chromosome — affects only girls. Mikayla wasn’t supposed to live past a year but she’s still flourishing and brightening the lives of those around her.

“She’s doing wonderful,” Wisher said proudly. “She’s my backbone and right hip.”

Like most other girls with Aicardi Syndrome, Mikayla seemed to develop normally for the first couple of months of her life. Then out of nowhere, at 2 1/2 months, she began screaming.

The screaming was caused by infantile spasms, a form of seizures. Scans of Mikayla’s brain showed a number of cysts and that she’s missing the center part of her brain, the part that sits between the sides of the brain and allows the right side to communicate with the left.

To this day Mikayla has been unable to speak, walk or feed herself, but her smile lights up the room.

“I made her a promise the day she was diagnosed I would not give up on her,” Wisher said. “I have learned confidence, determination and I have also learned how to deal with disappointment.”

The past 22 years have been a blur of hospital stays and doctor appointments. By the time Mikayla was 5, she had suffered through 42 bouts of pneumonia.

“There were times when Mikayla was sick that I’d ask, ‘Why me?’ Wisher said. “Now when I look at her I think, ‘Lucky me.’ God has a purpose for both of us and I know we will make a difference.”

Making sure Mikayla’s needs are met hasn’t always been easy.

A few years ago when Mikayla needed a special $8,000 SleepSafe bed, Medicaid turned down Wisher four times for financial assistance. She was told to simply put a mattress on the floor for her daughter. A traditional hospital bed with side rails wouldn’t work because the seizures caused her arms, legs and even her head to become trapped in the side rails.

After an overwhelming show of community support and fundraising for the bed, the manufacturer opted to donate the specialized bed for Mikayla.

With the $26,000 raised for Mikayla, Wisher began buying beds for other special-needs children and decided to keep paying it forward. She started a nonprofit foundation, Mikayla’s Miracles and Blessings Foundation.

“I knew what it was like to need and want,” she said. “I decided that I wanted to make a difference in someone’s life or at least make it a little easier by taking the load off.”

One of her projects involves assistance from Wisher’s Auto Recycling in donating vans to area families so they could adapt their vehicles to their children’s specific needs.

Wisher’s Mother of the Year award extends to her role in raising her other three children, too.

Hunter, 16 and a sophomore at Flathead High School, is very close to his sister Mikayla and wrote a letter to American Mothers after his mom was nominated for the award.

“My mom is the most inspirational and closest person to me and she actually has given me the greatest opportunities,” Hunter wrote, calling his mom “the biggest hero of all.” He plays an important role in Mikayla’s caregiving and helps out with the nonprofit organization.

Audrey, 22, and Steel, 21, have been a part of Wisher’s life since they were 6 and 5. Even though they’re not her biological children, “they’re my kids,” she said. They both went into the Marine Corps and have excelled in military service.

“Each one of my kids are different, but one thing for sure they know is that my love for them is unconditional,” Wisher said. “The sky’s the limit in our home. I put absolutely no limitations on my children.”

Wisher rarely takes time for herself, but does make a point of going to the gym every evening to exercise. Hunter watches Mikayla or Mikayla comes with her to Edge Fitness. Wisher said her next goal is to participate in a fitness show.

“It’s something that keeps me sane,” she said about her workouts. “And I’ve got to stay strong for my kids.

“Each and every day I watch Mikayla’s strength for life and I just know that I want to be just like her when I grow up,” Wisher said. “Without being able to speak one word, my daughter has touched thousands of lives and made a huge difference in so many ... I thought I had to teach my daughter about the world. As it turns out, I have to teach the world about my daughter. They see a girl who cannot speak, I see a miracle that needs no words.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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