Virginia Beach woman pushes through tragedy of losing her daughter to help others

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and a desire for a certain thing to happen. Hope is the one constant in Aimee Darby's life.

She's a woman warrior who despite going through obstacle after obstacle, is building on hope.

Aimee and her husband tried to have a baby for nine years.

"I had six miscarriages before Eliza, so I had my miracle," said Aimee.

Eliza Hope was born April 12, 2012, but five months later, Aimee was diagnosed with breast cancer. She beat it. Then Eliza, their miracle, was diagnosed with intractable epilepsy and autism.

"What I realized during that time is there are very few providers who can see your child on a full-time basis," said Aimee, who struggled to find a pre-school for Eliza to attend. Even those for kids with special needs couldn't take her in. On top of that, there was the struggle of where to go for speech, occupational, feeding, physical therapy and more.

Despite struggles to find the best care and therapy, Eliza connected with others through her sense of touch.

"She’d go right up to you and kiss your hand. She would hug you. She made eye contact. She would always want to be hugged and squeezed," said Aimee.

Eliza also had a big love for pine cones. Aimee had a basket of pine cones on their front step and every morning, Eliza would pick one up and say, "Mell," which was her way of saying smell.

That's not too common for those with autism. But Eliza's time would be cut very short. Over the summer of 2016, Eliza got sick with pneumonia. Aimee said it was hard for her to recover but by fall, she was doing better.

In October, Aimee decided Eliza was well enough so Aimee went to a bachelorette party in Las Vegas.

"It was 5 o’ clock in the morning in Vegas and my husband called. He just said, 'Eliza is very sick.' And I was like 'What is he talking about?' I knew, I knew. And I just screamed 'Is she dead?' and he said yes."

Aimee said they don't really know how Eliza died. There's something called sudden unexplained death in epilepsy.

Through tragedy, Aimee found hope Eliza's short life would have a purpose.

"I was going through this terrible grief and to be able to focus that energy on something for Eliza and for a legacy, it has helped quite a bit," said Aimee.

They created the Eliza Hope Foundation in November 2016. Since then, the foundation has raised more than $300,000 and they are opening a center for children with autism to have all their needs met under one roof.

The center is currently under construction in Virginia Beach. "Our center is going to have therapy rooms, small group setting where kids can interact as they're coming and going from therapy. I already have our four main therapists. They were Eliza’s therapists," said Aimee.

The goal will be to eliminate the need for parents to drive all over Hampton Roads to give their child the best care.

"A parent literally will walk in, drop their child off and know they are getting everything they need. Early intervention, that is huge. The earlier you have a diagnosis, the earlier you start therapy, the better," said Aimee.

This center, which is slated to open in June, gives Aimee purpose and hope despite all she's battled through. It helps her create a legacy in Eliza's name.

"Hope is huge. And I think that a lot of people just kind of use the word hope as, 'Oh I just hope,' but it’s huge for me because my hope is in I’m going to see her again. So I just need to get done here what I need to do. And help other people and spread kindness and love for her."

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