“She likes to dance, she actually takes ballet and tap,” says Tessa Walters, Piper’s mom. “She likes to ride her bike.” Piper’s bike is a giant tricycle with harnesses and straps to help keep her safe while she rides, and she received it in 2018 from the McLindon Family Foundation.
“Piper’s (bike) is so important to us, and not only allows her to have fun, but it’s good exercise and coordination. And those bikes are very expensive,” says Tessa.
Giving back is important to the Walters family, which includes Tessa, Piper and her dad George. They often participate in fundraisers to support other children who live with disabilities. Before the pandemic, the family worked with Louisiana Hogs on Hogs, now called South Louisiana Volunteers, to host a softball tournament, raising money to provide adaptive bikes for kids who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford one.
The tournament benefited the McLindon Family Foundation and provided adaptive bikes for two children, including Cami Rios, one of Piper’s school friends. Tessa was Cami’s paraprofessional and now is a fourth grade teacher at their school, Seventh Ward Elementary in Denham Springs.
Tessa and Piper being at the same school makes life easier. “We have such a good support system at school, and they keep her safe,” Tessa says. “It takes a village, but I have a good one.”
Piper is in a class for moderately to severely disabled learners, and she has a teacher and a paraprofessional who work with her throughout the day.
“Piper can count to 10 by herself. She knows her ABCs. She can spell her name,” Tessa says. “There’s so much she can do that she couldn’t do when she started going (to school). She’s very popular and everybody loves her. She is everybody’s friend.”
The school provides accessible equipment for Piper and other children to use. “She has a gait trainer at school, so she can run around in the gym with her friends,” Tessa says. A wheelchair-accessible picnic table was recently donated. “Piper can sit out and have lunch with her friends, and they can do their little birthday party things.”
Tenacity is a character trait that Piper exudes. As she thrives in life, she continues to beat the odds and do things doctors told her parents she wouldn’t be able to do. “The girl has no quit,” Tessa says. “If there’s something she wants to do, she’s going to find a way to do it. Anything she wants to do, she will figure out her own innovative way of doing it.”
Amelia, Piper’s service dog that she nicknamed “Mia,” is the most recent addition to the Walters family. “She’s ours now for good,” Tessa says. “She can help detect seizures if there’s one imminent. She can also do the deep pressure where she lays on Piper’s lap and provides comfort. She’s just a good companion for Piper.”
Just before the pandemic hit in 2020, Piper was crowned a Very Special Miss Louisiana Ambassador. Very Special Miss Louisiana is a pageant for young ladies who are living with special needs. The pageant is also a fundraiser for the nonprofit TARC (Teach, Assist, Reach, Connect). COVID-19 temporarily shrank Piper’s world, causing her to switch to virtual therapy and stay home for months. However, things are getting better, and in addition to in-person school, Piper’s in-clinic therapy has resumed.