Making wishes come true
Memories of the late Becky and Andrea Sparkes help raise some $280,000
A homemade wooden highchair built for two still sits in the corner of the dining room in the Sparkes family home after several years being empty.
The names “Rebecca” and “Andrea” can still be read along the joint backrest, although the “E” in Rebecca has begun to come off.
Becky and Andrea were the twin girls of Annette and Gary Sparkes of Shearstown, Conception Bay North (CBN), who lost their battle with Batten’s Disease in 2008, 11 months apart.
The twins, who were born in 2000, were inseparable, Annette told The Compass during a recent interview at her home.
Their deaths sparked an overwhelming amount of support from communities in CBN and the Trinity Bay town of Whiteway, when the Sparkes and George families began hosting a golf tournament for the Children’s Wish Foundation.
They were seen as a small family who gives from the heart.
Learning of illness
When the girls were three, they began having seizures that were almost rhythmic.
“Becky would have one, Andrea would have one,” Annette explained. “Becky would have two, Andrea would have two. Then Becky would have one and Andrea would have one.”
At first, the diagnosis was epilepsy. But after a year, it was determined that diagnosis was incorrect.
On July 6, 2005, the girls were diagnosed with Batten’s disease, a genetic disorder.
“The doctor didn’t really explain what Batten’s was,” Annette said. “So I came home and Googled it.”
She read through a website and seen the term fatal. That caused her to close the page.
Annette couldn’t continue reading. How could her four-year-old daughters be dying?
The form of Batten’s the girls had, late infantile neuronal ceroid lipofus-cinoses (NCLs), affects physical and mental state. Proteins and fats build up along the body’s tissues, including the brain, preventing damaged cells from being expelled. Signs that begin to show in the early stages are seizures, like the girls experienced, vision issues and a loss of muscle coordination. It rapidly progresses, leading to death, normally between the ages of eight and 12.
A doctor suggested the girls, who were sti l l active and appeared healthy, would need feeding tubes within six months. In December 2005, both girls had feeding tubes inserted on the same day. A magical wish The Children’s Wish Foundation was in close connection with the family from the beginning of the diagnosis.
It was four months later, and the first wish was granted, allowing the family to take a trip to Disney World in Florida. The girls got to experience meeting their favourite characters, including Shrek.
After a wonderful trip, and many lasting memories, the family returned home.
It wasn’t long before the phone rang again, this time the foundation asked for their second wish.
Around this time, Becky and Andrea began to have issues with their vision. The family asked for a big screen television so the girls could continue to watch their favourite shows and movies.
When the day came for the wish to be granted, a complete entertainment system was brought to their home. The foundation even let sister Leah choose some of the movies that were also given to the family and let her plan the foundation’s part at the family’s home. “That was really important,” Annette said. The girls continued to enjoy the television and entertainment system, even after their vision was mostly gone.
Wishes have been said to give families memories they may not have had with their children otherwise, and the Sparkes family were grateful for theirs.
They joined forces with more family and friends, and began to raise money for the foundation.
The first fundraiser was a golf tournament in 2007 for Andrea and Becky’s great-grandfather, the late Robert George’s 90th birthday. It was called George Fest, and they raised some $800.
Andrea passed away in January 2008, before the second golf tournament. But the fundraiser happened again, raising a bit more than the previous year.
After Becky passed in December 2008, the tournament was renamed the Becky and Andrea Fun Fest.
To date, donations and pledges have totaled $280,000.
Annette accepted the outstanding philanthropist award for 2013 from the Association of Fundraising Professionals on behalf of the event.
She said the award was all about a group effort, and the successes and strives they’ve made together.
“This really shows what family, friends and businesses are doing to help,” Annette explained. “But we’re just beyond proud of what we, as a group, have accomplished.
“Anyone who has helped in any way, they have helped make this as big a success as it has been.”
In memory of twins Andrea and Becky Sparkes, Dad Gary (left), mom Annette (centre) and sister Leah have been a big part in fundraising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Children’s Wish Foundation through an annual golf tournament.
The committee has been working hard to put off the golf tournament all year. Representatives from the Children’s Wish Foundation joined the group during the festivities to announce the total donations and pledges. Those on hand for the announcement were, from left, Annette Sparkes, Gary Sparkes, Leah Sparkes, Helen Sparkes, Gary Sparkes Sr.,Terry Sparkes, Jennifer Sparkes, Joy Parsons, Robert George, Jo-Anne George, Jessica George, Tyler George, Shelley Drover, Frances Drover, Rachel Drover and Edie Newton (Director Children’s Wish Foundation). Missing from photo, Christopher and Jennifer George.