ALEXANDRIA, Ind. — Nine girls approached Susie Clark, 11, perched on her throne in the center of the gym at Alexandria Intermediate School, kneeled and presented her with the rhinestone tiara.

At the same time, the ladies in waiting also presented Susie with a yellow construction paper megaphone designating her an honorary cheerleader.

“We have a special princess with us here today, and we’re her court,” said the school’s principal, Mark Bartmas, during a special assembly on Monday. “She’s not just going to be a princess today, she’s the queen.”

Through a special request from Susie to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, the school hosted a Prince and Princess Day to honor the sixth-grader, who was born with a genetic condition called Williams syndrome. The event kicks off Susie’s countdown calendar till her visit in October to see the princesses — including her favorite, Belle, from “Beauty and the Beast” — at Disney World.

Susie previously attended Eastside and Erskine elementary schools in Anderson. Though she has attended school with her Alexandria classmates for less than a month, Bartmas said the event is an important part of their character education, developing their sense of caring and empathy.

“This is a chance for all of us to support Susie,” he said.

To that end, even the teachers dressed up as princesses, some coming in Renaissance garb, one dressed as Snow White and yet another appearing as a pageant princess. Students who did come in prince or princess garb of their own were given one of 500 crowns donated by Burger King.

Fifth-grader Sammy Lehnus, 10, wore a homemade silver crown bejeweled with poker chips.

“They’re princesses, and I’m a king,” he declared.

Her father, Michael Clark, said Susie, whose development is that of a third-grader, could barely contain her excitement, getting up at 5:30 a.m. to dress up in her navy blue party dress, white gloves and white patent leather Mary Janes.

Michael and Jennifer Clark said their daughter’s fragile medical state was apparent as soon as she was born when doctors had to perform CPR and when she faced back-to-back open-heart surgeries a week apart.

“She has done better than most kids with this condition, but unfortunately, she got the heart part of it, which is the worst part of it,” he said.

Since then, she has had an additional open-heart surgery, seven catheterizations and 40 angioplasties, an average of one a year. Last year, however, she had 19 of those angioplasties, Michael Clark said.

“As she’s grown, they have had to keep going in,” Jennifer Clark said.

Carolyn Freeman, a volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, also was on hand for the event. She said such a big event is amazing and out of the ordinary.

“I told the principal about Princess Day, and I didn’t think it would amount to anything, but wow, the whole school is on board,” she said. “The principal has been very helpful. He said they were a family, and she was a part of the family now.”

According to the U.S. National Library of Science website, Williams syndrome is a developmental disorder than can affect not only the heart and cardiovascular system but also can affect intellect, personality and appearance.

Williams syndrome is caused by missing genetic material in chromosome 7. However, researchers believe Williams syndrome is not necessarily inherited but is caused by random events during the formation of either the egg or the sperm.

It is believed to affect as many as 1 in 7,500 people.


Source: The (Anderson) Herald-Bulletin, http://bit.ly/2wFJKMK

Author photo
REBECCA R. BIBBS
The AP is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, as a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members, it can maintain its single-minded focus on newsgathering and its commitment to the highest standards of objective, accurate journalism.