An afternoon with Maria

Cathy, also known as “Maria’s mom” sent me an email after reading about in the March 28 edition of The Arizona Republic.

She explained that she loves what brettapproved is accomplishing, expressed interest in reviewing places through the lens of a parent whose child lives with physical challenges and of course, she shared a bit about her pride and joy, Maria.

Corresponding by email throughout the next month, we decided it was time to meet. So on a recent Sunday afternoon, we did and I can assure you that meeting Maria for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget.

In so many ways she’s like any nine-year-old. She lights up the room when she enters, enjoys being in the sun – but not too long it is springtime in Arizona after all – isn’t a big fan of spicy food but will try anything once, looks adorable in pink, gets a kick out of playing soccer with friends and has a great relationship with her parents. And yet, she’s so much more.

Hydrocephalus, a condition in which an abundance of cerebrospinal fluid puts pressure on the brain, can cause a myriad of health challenges. In Maria’s case it means she can’t speak, has difficulty swallowing and lacks muscle tone as well as control. However, I quickly discovered that she communicates quite well, in her own way, and is anything but shy.

Maintaining eye contact as I introduced myself so she knew I was speaking with her and not at her, we exchanged glances for a split second and in the magic of an instant, became friends. Maria’s energy is unmistakable. To be honest, it caught me by surprise. How can someone unable to speak communicate so intensely? Incredible.

With her thick brown hair neatly braided and wearing a vibrant skirt showcasing a contemporary floral print, a magenta top and grape-colored glasses perched on her cute-as-a-button nose, she reached out and grabbed my hand.  For a petite girl with delicate features her grip is strong and purposeful.

Enjoying an afternoon with Maria, and Cathy was reassuring because like mothers and daughters everywhere, theirs is a relationship with the usual parent/child give-and-take at its core.

Cathy, Maria’s fiercest protector and staunchest advocate, unscrews a metal thermos, pours Maria’s beverage of choice, warm milk, into a ladybug sippy cup that, as long as she’s in the mood, Maria holds herself. “Maria,” Cathy says in an even, loving, librarian-esque tone, “hold on to your cup. I know you can.” With that gentle nudge Maria picks up her cup and enjoys a drink.

Both blessed with a gift for gab, we decided it was time to part ways after a couple hours so Cathy and Maria wouldn’t be late for the play they made plans to attend later that afternoon. If we hadn’t, we’d probably still be chatting. ? With that, we made a commitment to stay in touch and went our separate ways.

The 20 minutes I spent trying to remember where I parked and my 40-minute drive from Westgate, home to Ahwatukee, gave me plenty of time to process the events of the day. I just couldn’t get over the power of Maria’s spirit. It’s nearly impossible to explain, but if you’re lucky enough to meet this dynamic duo, you’ll get it – immediately.

The heart of a champion

Maria had spinal surgery at Phoenix Children’s Hospital earlier this week and I’m thrilled to report that the surgeons think the procedure – the insertion of two metal rods in her back to address severe Scoliosis – went well. Please keep my friend and her entire family in your thoughts. Maria’s a fighter, but Cathy put it best: “We’ll take all the prayers we can get,” she said in a text.

Maria, thank you for reminding an exhausted, stressed-out entrepreneur what true beauty looks like. Thank you for reminding me that courage comes in all shapes and sizes.  Most of all, thank you for giving me the chance to meet you and hang out. I’m a better person for it.

Cathy, lest I forget, thank you for demonstrating so humbly and without fanfare the power of unconditional love.


Brett Heising 37 total posts

Founder and CEO of

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