Eli is a vibrant brown hair, brown eyed 4-year-old boy that most always has a smile on his face, has a contagious laugh, and has a huge love for music. He came into this world a fighter and continues to do so daily. He has been through more in his 4 years than most people have in a lifetime. He was born prematurely due to fetal distress.
This website was created to help drive donations to help with the training costs for Eli’s dedicated service dog, Koda.
Eli was in respiratory distress, so compressions were started, and he had to be intubated. He was transferred to a bigger hospital due to Asphyxia. Seven days later, he was transferred to Children’s Hospital because his kidneys began to fail which would mean he would need dialysis. Eli had other plans and his kidneys began to function well enough that he never needed this. He did end up with a brain bleed at birth which caused Cerebral Palsy, Cortical Blindness, and kidney damage.
He spent the next month and half in NICU. The next few months he was in and out of the hospital and had several surgeries for tracheomalacia and Laryngomalacia- to reduce the chance of aspiration, Gtube placement in his stomach for nutritional needs because he had failure to thrive , and shunt placement in his brain to help with hydrocephalus(fluid in the brain). Eli is non-verbal and non-ambulatory, but he does not allow this to rule his life. He is slowly learning to use switches to help him communicate and in the past few weeks started to use a gait trainer during physical therapy to start the process to learn to walk. The gait trainer is very hard for him to use and his brain is still having a hard time telling his legs and feet to move but the look of determination on his face tells us just how much he wants to succeed.
In 2018 while on vacation with is soon to be adoptive family Eli began to have seizures. His episodes come without warning and last an exceptionally long time even after rescue meds are given. His neurologist has not found a cause, so it makes it impossible to know when they are going to start. Eli has taught his family so much about life in the past 1 ½ years since his placement with them. They look forward to watching him grow and conquering each small and large milestone over the years.
Meet Koda! Koda is a full blood AKC registered Yellow Labrador Retriever that was raised by the Gochee Family. Meghan Gochee, one of the breeders, describes him as “laid back, loves cuddles, and is very smart. As a working line Labrador, he is very loyal to his family and loves scent games.” He spent his first 8 weeks in Sherrard, Illinois. He was trained from birth with Puppy Culture until the day he stepped foot on a plane to come to Virginia. Starting at 2 ½ weeks our trainer started doing evaluations via Zoom meetings with the breeder from Gochee Labs on all the male puppies to look at their different demeanors, personalities, and interest in scent since all this will be important in finding the right match for Eli’s needs. His major tasks will be Seizure Alert and Aspiration Help. He will go through 2 years of intense training to become Eli’s service dog.
Koda will be trained to recognize the scent Eli gives off right before he has an episode so he can tell a care giver and they can respond to it. This is especially important for Eli because he is nonverbal and unable to tell us when he is not feeling well. When Eli has a seizure, we have no warning signs, they normally last over an hour, and have gone South quickly. If the caregiver has warning ahead of time, they can be ready for the episode or treat before the seizure starts.
Koda will also be trained to roll Eli on his side if he is on his back and starts to vomit or has lots of secretions so he doesn’t chock or aspirate ( breath in the fluid into his lungs which could cause pneumonia) and alert a care giver so we can take of the situation.
Having Koda in the home will give the peace of mind that Scott and Melissa have not had since Eli started having seizures especially at night. They wake up multiple times during the night to check on him to make sure he is ok because his oxygen level does not always go down enough for his pulse ox to alarm which would wake them up.
Scott was born and raised in the West End of Richmond, VA, and Melissa was born and raised in the small town of Newport, AR. Their paths crossed at Harding University in Searcy, AR in the Fall of 2000 during a leadership retreat, and they became best friends right away. Scott and Melissa Clark began dating in December of that year and were married on August 4, 2001. Right away they knew they wanted a big family, but Melissa was diagnosed with endometriosis in 2002. She went through many surgeries, tests, medications, injections, and blood work hoping to have the good news they were expecting, but infertility plagued their efforts. The pain became more than Melissa could handle, and in December of 2013 she and Scott made the extremely hard decision for her to have a complete hysterectomy, ending their hopes of having a biological child of their own. In mid-October of 2016, a family member contacted Scott and Melissa about the remote possibility of a possible adoption. They began planning for the adoption of twins from a young mother who did not have the resources to care for the unborn siblings. Unforeseen circumstances with the birth family led to the adoption falling through, but Scott and Melissa moved forward in faith, seeking elsewhere for children the Lord wanted to place in their family.
On March 7, 2018, Scott and Melissa’s life was in the process of changing and they did not even know it. Scott was on Facebook and saw a post from a dear Sister in Christ that read “Looking for a permanent Christian home for a sweet little foster child with CP that I met tonight. If you know of anyone who is up to this rewarding challenge……..if you know of a place for him where love and the Lord are living, message me and I’ll put you in touch. His smile will take your heart”
Scott immediately contacted that sweet sister, she put them in touch with the foster family, and the relationship started with this sweet family.
In April of 2018, that sweet little boy, Elijah Lee Hawkins, was officially put on the Heart Gallery website and they put an official inquiry about him. Several months went by with no communication from the Heart Gallery and out of nowhere the Clark’s social worker got an email stating they wanted to do a conference call with her and then patch in Scott and Melissa. They gave the impression that it was going to be the first of many interviews with them since Elijah was in Alabama and the Clark’s lived in Virginia.
On August 17, 2018, the day had finally come for the interview but when their social worker called it was just her on the phone. A few minutes later the Clarks were in shock. Their social worker said they had heard nothing from the adoption team because the state of Alabama was trying to find a family for him in his home state and everyone who had inquired had been knocked off the list because no one else fit the standard they were looking for to be Elijah’s forever family but they met and exceeded the requirements.
It took several months to get Elijah’s approval to go across state lines because neither AL or VA had ever dealt with taking a medically fragile child across state lines, but on March 1, 2019 the day finally came for the Clarks to sign the papers for Elijah to be placed in their home. It was a long eight months with monthly supervision visits from their social worker. On December 17, 2019 Elijah Lee Hawkins went into a court room and came out Eli Walter Aaron Clark. The Clark’s prayer had finally been answered. Eli has truly filled that void they had in their family.
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