Just before Christmas, when Emma Blundell was told she only had days to live after a long, courageous battle with the cancer that spread throughout her body, the busy Kāpiti Coast mum had three dreams to fulfil.
Firstly, she wished to spend her final moments soaking up the seaside view from her Paraparaumu Beach home. Emma also wanted to marry the love of her life, real estate agent Hamish, 43, on their balcony, with the backdrop of pōhutukawa trees and Kāpiti Island – a joyful occasion that happened on Christmas Day and was the happiest moment of her life.
But there was another major dream the former global sales director didn't manage to complete before she sadly passed away on 15 January at the age of 45.
Most of all, Emma had wanted to give her beloved nine-year-old nephew Harper Ahern, who was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a swimming pool.
In the 19 days she fought to stay alive after returning home from hospital, Emma worked endlessly to fundraise for a pool, hoping to help Harper in his daily struggle with the progressive neuromuscular disorder.
"Harper has the best parents in the whole world," she told Woman's Day just two days before she passed away. "Trish, his mother, is my hero and so is my brother Dion. Can you imagine every single birthday your child gets less able to move? Last year, Harper could jump in the pool at our old house and then, one day, he couldn't any more."
Emma's outdoors-loving nephew was four when he was diagnosed with DMD, which gradually affects every muscle in the body until it reaches the heart. There's no cure for the disease. Treatment consists of steroids and physical therapy to try to delay it.
"Harper has grown up around the water and learnt to surf when he was three," explained Emma, a mum to Brooke, 28, Willow, 22, and Wiremu, 15, a stepmum to Kasen, nine, and Jessa, six, and a grandmother to Reign, two.
"He loved to bike ride, run, jump, go on bush walks and play with his friends, but he can't do any of that now. The other day, Dion took him down to the beach and put him in the water, and he was so happy just floating in the sea."
The reality of her nephew's struggle brought Emma – who raised $50,000 last year for the Child Cancer Foundation and another local family affected by cancer – to tears.
"Harper's heart is the kindest. The other day, he held my hand for three hours while I slept. He'll be a tetraplegic one day, and having a pool is so important because it makes him feel weightless and takes pressure off his body. Getting this for him means everything to me."
This time last year, Harper – who loves cooking and takes DJing classes – was only using a wheelchair at school during lunch and playtimes to keep up with friends. But within a few months, he couldn't walk at all. Dion admits it was a shock even though he and his wife knew it was coming.
"His condition started at the legs, but all the other muscles, like the heart, lungs and brain, ultimately get affected," shares the avid surfer, 43, also dad to Mia, 11. "Harper gets upset sometimes but says, 'I just have to suck it up and get on with life,' which blows us away, but he's still not fully aware of the impact it might have on him later."
Harper – who describes his aunt as "caring and fun" – says he dreams of having a pool because "it's nice floating".
He adds, "When I'm not on the water, my muscles feel pressure, but when I go into it, there's not much."
Every night, his parents spend 15 minutes stretching him and another 10 massaging his legs, before transferring him from his chair into bed.
"What Harper's parents have been through, I couldn't have done," said Emma, who underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy in 2017 for breast cancer, before the disease spread to her spine, pelvis, shoulders and lungs. "Nothing I carry is anything on them."
Remaining upbeat even in her final days, Emma concluded, "I've had the best life and am one of the luckiest people in the world because I have the most beautiful husband, family and friends. Harper's my angel and he asked me if I'll remember him when I'm gone because he's going to run to me in Heaven.
I said I'll be up there, ready and waiting to cheer him on."
To help Emma achieve her final wish, head to her givealittle page
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