Former CEO student featured on KOMO News

Check out the article below, about one of our former CEO students, Anna Ewing, which was published by KOMO news. What an awesome, inspiring story!

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SHORELINE, Wash. – Anna Ewing and Ripley Roddick sat side by side on one of the biggest day of Ripley’s life – her graduation. The 21-year-old has autism, and there was a time when the day felt like a doubtful dream.

As a toddler, Ripley suffered several seizures. Only then was she diagnosed with autism, and her development rapidly slowed. At 4-years-old she could still barely function. She wouldn’t smile, speak or look her parents in the eye.

“Autism is one of the worst diagnoses a mother can get,” Donna Roddick said. “Because you lose that connection.”

Sessions with specialists did little for Ripley, but then came an unexpected day.

One afternoon, Ripley’s mother dropped her off at a group home for kids with special needs. One of the women who worked there had brought her own 7-year-old daughter, Anna, who frequently came by after school. Anna’s mother paid her a quarter to watch Ripley, fearing she might hurt herself is she sat alone.

As the families tell it, Ripley laid eyes on Anna and something inexplicably clicked. She would smile and laugh, and jump on Anna’s lap. She had never opened up like that to anyone. The families were shocked.

“I was like ‘woah,'” Donna said, laughing. She couldn’t believe the change she suddenly saw in her daughter.

So the nurses started paying Anna a quarter to come back week after week to work with Ripley. Slowly Anna started to realize her role: that she wasn’t just playing with Ripley, she was helping her.

Seventeen years later, Anna is still helping.

Anna still meets with Ripley several times each week. They do grammar exercises and work on behavioral skills. It’s been a long journey. Ripley’s communication skills still aren’t strong. She speaks through a special tablet device. She still throws tantrums. In fact, her parents say Anna has become a bribing tool for the family to swing Ripley’s mood when she acts up.

But the progress has been amazing, Ripley’s family says, and so much is owed to Anna.

“She taught her how to be a kid,” Donna said. “And how to make that connection with people.”

For Anna, Ripley is much more than a patient. Much more than even a friend. Their bond goes back to a much darker time for the 25-year-old.

When Anna was 16, headaches put her in the ER, where a doctor delivered life changing news: brain cancer.

“It was a scary diagnosis,” Anna’s mother, Debra Dejohn said through tears. Anna’s long battle is still tough to discuss.

Anna needed four brain surgeries. An infection forced doctors to remove one third of her skull. For two years she was in and out of the hospital, fighting to survive. And through all of it, Ripley would come to sit at her bedside and hold her hand.

“She’s the one who brought a smile to my face when I was in the hospital,” Anna said. “All the times I wanted to give up because I was done with things, I said ‘no, Ripley is here and I need her and she needs me.'”

Anna battled back. She’s now been cancer free for seven years. Since then she’s been with Ripley whenever possible.

“She really got me through it,” Anna said.

Anna still suffers occasional seizures and is blind in the left half of both eyes, but she hasn’t let that slow her down.

She persevered through high school, and recently became the first in her to graduate college. And, to bring things full circle, she just got accepted to the University of Washington’s special education graduate program, where she’ll pursue a career that changes the lives of other kids with autism.

“I wouldn’t have known it was possible if it weren’t for Ripley,” Anna said.

Both young women will continue on their own journey, but their families know they will be lifelong friends, or as Anna says, sisters.

Anna’s family is not wealthy, so she’s been crowdsourcing to keep her afloat through graduate school. They’ve set up a GoFundMe account to cover some of the costs.

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