Young girl's life changed by a stranger's gift

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by JOHN SHARIFY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @JohnSharify

KING5.com

Posted on December 23, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Updated Saturday, Dec 24 at 1:04 PM

MAPLE FALLS, Wash. -- Thanks to the kindness of a stranger, nine year old Madrona Hartford can do something she's only dreamed about until now.

"This is the coolest gift ever," said Madrona with a smile that lights up the room.

Madrona has cerebral palsy. The gift she's talking about is an eye-tracking communications device made by Tobii ATI. It's a computer that helps people with disabilities speak.

"It's amazing the first time you hear a kid say 'I love you' to their mom," said sales rep. Kristine Bengen, who delivered the gift to the Maple Falls family. "Or giving somebody the ability to say 'goodbye' when they have a terminal illness."

Madrona has programmed phrases onto the computer with her dad Ryan. The device tracks the movement of Madrona's pupils.

"Just like we would navigate the mouse around, she's navigating the mouse around with her eyes," said Ryan.

The communications device once belonged to Chuck Reinking from Steilacoom, who lost his battle with ALS in the summer. His wife Sharon, decided to donate the $16,000 device to a family in need.

"I'm thrilled for her," said Sharon, who didn't know much about the family until after the gift was donated to them.

"Thank you!" said Madrona to Reinking’s family.

Saying 'thank you' has always been easy for Madrona. She'd tell you with her eyes and her smile -- silently.

Not silently anymore.

"I use this device as my voice. It's a computer," she said with the help of the computer.

"My pleasure," said Sharon.

"This is the man who gave it to you," Sharon said, holding up a picture of her soulmate and husband of 49 years. "He would have been so proud of you and pleased to give this to you. It would have made him very happy."

And it has made Madrona very happy indeed. She talks about her gift -- and her life -- on her website Madronasmiles.com. 

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