Emma Sneed is a world away from the life she left behind in her native Turkey.
She watched her father murder her mother, lived three days buried in the rubble of an earthquake, and has suffered severe kidney stones and malnourishment.
Now age 5, Emma graduated from preschool Friday at the Foundation for Blind Children in Chandler, where she’s been a student since August.
Amy and Mark Sneed of Gilbert adopted Emma in 2002 when they discovered the little girl, then 4, wasting away in a Turkish orphanage where they went to volunteer.
"She was in a vegetable state," Amy Sneed said. "She was malnourished and didn’t have the strength to sit up. She weighed only 25 pounds and had severe kidney stones. Doctors told us she would have been dead in another month."
When Emma was an infant, her birth mother was abusing her baby brother. When her father found out, he shot his wife in front of Emma, who was sent to live with her grandmother in Istanbul. In 1999, Emma lost what remained of her family in an earthquake that left her buried in rubble until search dogs found her.
To give Emma a fresh start and the visual, physical and speech therapy she needed, the Sneeds put her into a preschool program at the Foundation for Blind Children.
Phyllis Alfreda, a teacher at the foundation, said Emma suffers from cortical visual impairment, a condition where the brain does not understand or interpret what the eyes see. She said Emma has been learning to make her brain do just that.
In addition to visual therapy, Emma has been undergoing therapy to improve her motor skills and speech.
Now Emma gets to move on to kindergarten.
"We think she has progressed very nicely," said Alfreda, who added that she will miss Emma’s bright smile. "Emma’s a remarkable little girl. She has come a long way."
Amy Sneed said her daughter is thriving today thanks to the help of the foundation and lots of love at home.
"The foundation has given Emma a sense of worth and a sense of self-esteem," she said. "From an educational standpoint, they’ve brought her senses alive. They’ve brought her body to life through music and pet therapy. They’ve helped her feel that she can be something in life, that she can be of worth.
"And I think that’s the biggest gift that teachers can instill in children, especially disabled children."
Find out more
For more information about the Foundation for Blind Children, call (602) 331-1470.