At three days old, Haven McCormack was admitted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital.
At 11 days she underwent heart surgery. At 12 days she coded and received CPR for 58 minutes. At 14 months she began therapy.
By fourth grade she was walking the runway as a fashion model.
“Haven is very special,” says her mother Deana McCormack. “She has a very captivating, contagious smile.”
The pictures of Haven that McCormack keeps handy attest to Haven’s undeniable charisma. The smile is broad and genuine, and happiness flashes in her eyes.
But more than that, the pictures of a sunny child basking in the moment of an Easterseals Arkansas fashion show are evidence of the organization’s success and the value of its mission.
The Fashion Event, slated for March 7 at the Statehouse Convention Center, mingles professional models with young Easterseals clients, the success stories that underscore the organization’s mission.
“They try to help individuals with disabilities live independent, productive lives. And they do that,” McCormack says.
Haven, 13 and a student at Pinnacle View Middle School, has been an Easterseals client since one of her doctors recommended the organization at her first annual checkup. Born with a congenital heart defect, Haven hadn’t been able to leave the hospital until she was 5 1/2 weeks old, and her first year was a series of surgeries, treatments, implants, therapies and machines.
McCormack, marketing director for Celebrity Attractions, estimates Haven has had at least 3 1/2 to 7 hours of weekly therapy with Easterseals since she was 18 months old.
But that has made all the difference.
“What’s special about Easterseals are the therapists,” McCormack says. “I can’t sing their praises enough.”
From helping Haven learn to drink through a straw, to setting up her room for utmost convenience, to easing her away from a walker, to spotting potential health problems and even to taking her on dates, the Easterseals therapists and staff have been invaluable.
“You see these clients of Easterseals every year and they grow and progress and get better,” McCormack says, “and sometimes it’s by leaps and bounds.”
McCormack, a Walnut Ridge native and self-described workaholic, threw herself into her work at Celebrity Attractions, which began in the early 1990s when she was in graduate school at the University of Tulsa.
She met and married her husband John in Tulsa and continued to work for Celebrity Attractions when, while seven weeks pregnant with her oldest daughter Eden, the family moved to Little Rock in 2000. Happily closer to home, McCormack continued to work at a ferocious pace, dealing with New York booking agents, negotiating deals, hiring stagehands, advertising and all that goes into bringing national touring productions to the Robinson Center.
Then Haven was born, and life took an abrupt turn. Instead of dealing with agents and stagehands, McCormack was working with therapists and helping with fundraisers.
In summer of 2015, John undertook a sponsored, cross-country motorcycle trip, “Haven’s Ride,” that raised $120,000 for Easterseals. Eden began a “Bud Club” at Little Rock Central, helping to bridge the distance between special needs students and the “neurotypical” kids.
Haven herself has been a representative for a number of organizations including the American Heart Association, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Arkansas Speech-Language-Hearing Association and the Children’s Miracle Network.
Once a workaholic, McCormack has shape-shifted into a “volunteer-aholic” who has been active with Easterseals, Ballet Arkansas, the Little Rock Zoo and more, all while working “part time” with Celebrity Attractions.
“It makes life a little more challenging at times,” McCormack says with a shrug. “It’s my life.”
Understandably, for McCormack the Fashion Event looms large, as it combines her appreciation for live events and presentation, Easterseals and her love for her Haven and Eden, who will take to the runway as models. At the event, the kids are fitted with clothes from places like Barbara/Jean, Dillard’s and The Toggery and treated like the stars they are.
“It is by far the best fundraising event in the city of Little Rock if you want to have fun and cheer people on and make them feel special,” McCormack says.
Maybe hospitals, Easterseals, therapy and fundraisers weren’t what McCormack signed up for. But for validation and inspiration she turns to “Welcome to Holland,” the 1987 essay by author and social activist Emily Perl Kingsley, who describes her own views on parenting a child with a disability.
Holland, Kingsley writes, is what happens in life after you’ve made extensive plans for a fabulous vacation in Italy. Holland is beautiful and you wouldn’t have missed it for the world, it just wasn’t what you were expecting.
“Easterseals is my Holland,” McCormack says.
The Fashion Event
Thursday, March 7, 5:30 p.m. | Statehouse Convention Center