McHENRY – Private bathroom with purple lights above the vanity mirror? Check. Walk-in closet that’s big enough to be a bedroom? Check. Pale-blue bedroom walls that match the bedding? Check. Doorbell? Still working on it.
Brittany Stokes, 16, got her own apartment-style space Thursday afternoon – despite the fact that she’s still in high school – sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
“[I love] having the room and knowing that I’ve got a place of my own,” she said.
Stokes was born with hydrocephalus, also known as water on the brain. The condition became especially bad when she turned 13, and Stokes has endured 43 procedures since.
It isn’t technically terminal, but she’s more prone to a stroke or an aneurysm and also lives with constant head pain that no medicine can combat.
“We almost lost her a few times,” her mom, Desiree Wu, said. “Now, it’s just about getting her the best quality of life possible until technology improves.”
The “mini-apartment” first was conceived in January with that in mind, and construction started in October.
Although Stokes was just a flight of stairs away while contractor Harvey Deveau, of JKD Remodeling Inc., and his team worked to turn a slab of basement concrete into an apartment, she wasn’t allowed to see it until Thursday afternoon.
“I got to have an idea of where everything was going to be, and I got to pick out the colors,” she said. “[But] I haven’t seen it yet. ... Everybody was surprised that I wasn’t peeking.”
The big reveal was anything but low-key. Stokes had no idea what was happening when she arrived home from school Thursday to find her street closed off and a marching band in her garage.
“She was just like, ‘What’s going on,’ ” Wu said. “I said, ‘It’s all for you.’ ”
About 40 students greeted Brittany, including members of the choir, band and cheerleading squad.
All of them braved the near-zero temperatures to wait inside the family’s garage and then burst into the McHenry fight song as she walked up the driveway.
“It’s so exciting,” said cheerleader Molly Machometa, who’s known Brittany for a few years. “I’m just so honored to be here for her cutting the ribbon.”
The cheerleaders presented her with a framed uniform, naming her an honorary member, and the marching band gave her a white pillow signed by its members in McHenry orange. Both were meant for her new digs.
“How awesome for a teenage girl to have a space like this,” cheerleading coach Stefanie Lukas said.
Aside from the obvious cool-factor, the underground space also offers some ways to help her cope with her condition. Being cold, in low lights and quiet space all minimize her pain, she said.
Furniture shopping is on the weekend to-do list, and Brittany has about 800 square feet to decorate, including a full-scale “entertainment area.”
“[It’s] a place away from everybody,” Wu said. “Brittany will never be able to self-support herself at this pain level, so she has this.”
But she added that her daughter shouldn’t grow too comfortable.
“We’re home all the time,” Wu said jokingly. “So no parties.”
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How to help
To donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, visit www.wish.org.