Milagro Perez, a young Santa Ana girl born without legs whose special needs wheelchair was stolen last year, isn't letting that slow her down. On Saturday, she celebrated her 5th birthday with potato sack races and a lot of smiles.
Milagro, Mili, made headlines on Nov. 2015 after her specialized wheelchair had been reported stolen.
Mili was born without legs, and the wheelchair had been her closest link to normalcy, allowing her to get around the house, the yard and to-and-from school. After numerous media reports, many viewers stepped up to help. In fact, a generous donor contacted NBC4 offering a $10,000 donation for Mili and her family.
But just days after the wheelchair was stolen, someone returned it, leaving it on the side yard of the family's apartment complex. Regardless, the generous donor insisted that Mili's family keep the money so that the family could give Mili a better life.
Mili's life has improved in many ways, and she continues to move forward just like any 5-year-old.
She got a new wheelchair, and was able to take a trip to Mexico to visit her grandmother. Over the summer she underwent two surgeries, one for her ears, and another to repair work in her mouth. Mili, who loves school, graduated from pre-school in May, and will be starting kindergarten in the coming week.
Mili's parents are working through personal problems, but set everything aside for her special birthday weekend to celebrate the significant milestone.
More than 50 guests, including family and friends, attended the party at Adams Park in Santa Ana Saturday. There were three piñatas, plenty of food, cupcakes, an extra large birthday cake, music and lots of games. Mili's physical challenges do not deter her from doing all the things that children her age do.
At the party, Mili chased friends around the playground, going up and down slides. She participated in balloon games and even joined in on the sack races.
Mili's mother, Rosa Perez, had been up since 3 a.m., setting up decorations and other preparations. She said she wanted everything to be perfect for Mili. Before taking on piñata duties, Mili's father, Antonio Perez-Sanchez, took a moment and shared a little more about the struggles the family has faced.
"When her mother was 3 months pregnant, the doctor told us that Mili's body had not fully formed, that she would have no legs. The doctor also said that because of this they didn't know how well her brain had developed. He said that she could have heart complications and that she could also die," Perez-Sanchez said with head bowed. The doctor suggested that we consider terminating the pregnancy. We struggled with the decision. All the advice was to abort the pregnancy. I told my wife it was up to her. And one day, she went to the clinic, thinking to terminate the pregnancy. But some ladies were there and they told her not to do it, to leave it all in God's hands.
So my wife didn't do it. And we accepted Mili in our lives the way she is. Mili went through a lot. She had many surgeries, and she did have heart problems."
He made a confession about his daughter's struggles.
"You know at first I was embarrassed. When I held Mili in public, I would try to cover up the bottom part of her body, so that people wouldn't see that she had no legs. But later I realized I was making it worse," Perez-Sanchez said. "We needed to let her feel accepted the way she is. I remember a lady at church asking in an almost angry voice, 'Why did you have a child like this?' I remember a co-worker asking me the same thing."
Mili's father looked up, watching Mili on the playground, and said, "You know, I spent a lot of time worrying about Mili. For many years I worried, how is it going to be when she gets older. If she can't work, who's going to take care of her? But now I look at her, the way she is, her strength, and now I think maybe she's the one who's going to take care of us."
Mili's full name, Milagro, means Miracle. And many around her do consider her the "Miracle Girl."