RICHMOND, Va. - Aimee Darby and Katie Putnam are friends who share a lot in common.
The proud moms beam when they talk about their daughters.
The women didn’t grow up together or attend the same college. Their friendship was born out of tragedy.
“I was so excited to be a to be a mom. It was my favorite thing ever,” Aimee said. ”She would smile and wake up and she would say, ‘Hi. Hi.’”
Eliza Hope was Aimee’s pride and joy. Her little one was diagnosed with autism and epilepsy at 2 years old.
The disabilities didn’t hinder her until November 11, 2016.
That's the day Eliza Hope passed away suddenly at age 4.
“It is the worst thing that could happen,” Aimee said. “I don’t remember a lot after that.”
Days after her daughter’s death, Aimee made a pact.
”The first thing I thought of was that I need to create a place where parents feel safe and comfortable,” she said.
With the community’s help, the Eliza Hope Therapy Center opened in Virginia Beach in 2018.
”I think they are an under-served population,” Aimee said.
The center provides wide-ranging therapies, from occupational to speech, under one roof.
”I knew I was doing the right thing. She would have been so proud of it and she would have loved everything there,” Aimee said.
It’s a place Katie Putnam could use.
“You’re not grieving your child. You’re grieving your expectations you had for your child,” Katie said.
Katie’s 4-year-old daughter Audrey lives with autism too.
“Audrey by far is the happiest girl I’ve ever been around,” Katie said.
But driving to Virginia Beach daily was out of the question.
”The first time I walked into the center, I felt at home,” Katie said.
Katie connected with Aimee through social media with a proposal.
“There was a gut instinct to go for it,” Katie said.
Katie and her husband are working to open an Eliza Hope Therapy Center in Richmond this year, so children like Audrey can thrive.
”I think it will give her friends,” Katie said.
Four years after her daughter’s death, Aimee Darby can smile. She is helping boys and girls heal and she has gained a confidant and close friend in Katie.
“I love when people come up to me and say, 'You’re Eliza’s mom, aren’t you?’”
But what is most special is watching her daughter's legacy grow.
”It gives me peace knowing that all of these kids are doing so well because of her life,” Aimee said. “It is pretty amazing to see how Eliza is changing people’s lives. Just a little bit at a time.”
If you would like to learn more about the Eliza Hope Therapy Center, click here .
If you know someone I should feature in my “Heroes Among Us” email me.