St. Mary student bolstered by Catholic school, letter from Bishop

May 11, 2023 at 5:59 p.m.
St. Mary student bolstered by Catholic school, letter from Bishop
St. Mary student bolstered by Catholic school, letter from Bishop

By EmmaLee Italia | Contributing Editor

To many, it could seem that Emma Close has lived a lifetime in her 11 years: awaiting an adoptive family in China for eight years while receiving no formal education, her 2019 adoption just before COVID-19 shut down her country of origin, and a birth defect that required an amputation shortly thereafter.

However, Emma has kept a positive spirit and embraced her new parents – Sandy and Bob Close, her education in St. Mary Academy, Manahawkin, and her Catholic faith, culminating in her Baptism April 23. And the support she has received even extends to a notable diocesan figure: Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

The Bishop recently wrote a letter to the third-grader, upon hearing of Emma’s leg amputation and prosthesis. He also shared some photos of his leg, his learning to walk again and one of him with Pope Francis.

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“We both share something in common: you and I each have a prosthetic leg below the knee,” Bishop O’Connell wrote. “Although it is not the same as having my natural leg, I manage to get around pretty well and can perform my duties as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton without any real problems.”

“Just like me, Bishop O’Connell had to learn to walk again,” Emma said. “I think he was very brave. I know it hurt a lot when he had his operation, because I remember how I felt.”

Although her daughter was a bit anxious about what others would think of her leg, “When she learned [about] Bishop O’Connell … she realized that she was not alone and was so excited when he shared his story and photos with her,” Sandy recalled.

Emma’s journey began in an orphanage, in a country that has long limited children to one per family. Sandy had researched China’s One Child Policy in graduate school; she and Bob knew they would eventually adopt a child from China. The couple have six children older than Emma, four of whom are also adopted.

A medical condition called fibular hemimelia caused Emma’s right lower leg and foot to form improperly in the womb. Her surgery allowed her to learn to walk on a prosthetic leg just a few weeks afterwards, and “at five weeks post-op she was able to skip!” Sandy exclaimed. “She has shown us that she can overcome any obstacle … this disability will not slow her down.”

“I love going to St. Mary Academy,” Emma said, “because I love the principal Ms. [Lizanne] Coyne and love learning about Mary and baby Jesus and God. I have made a lot of new, good friends who care about me. My teacher, Mrs. [Pamela] Kovacs, has taught me that I can count on God’s love every day.”

Her Baptism was very important to her, “because then I knew I would someday go to heaven and be with God.”

“We are so grateful for all that Bishop O’Connell has done for our daughter,” Sandy said. “He helped her feel better about herself and showed her that being different does not have to … limit what she can accomplish.”

Interviews by Mary Stadnyk contributed to this story.


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To many, it could seem that Emma Close has lived a lifetime in her 11 years: awaiting an adoptive family in China for eight years while receiving no formal education, her 2019 adoption just before COVID-19 shut down her country of origin, and a birth defect that required an amputation shortly thereafter.

However, Emma has kept a positive spirit and embraced her new parents – Sandy and Bob Close, her education in St. Mary Academy, Manahawkin, and her Catholic faith, culminating in her Baptism April 23. And the support she has received even extends to a notable diocesan figure: Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M.

The Bishop recently wrote a letter to the third-grader, upon hearing of Emma’s leg amputation and prosthesis. He also shared some photos of his leg, his learning to walk again and one of him with Pope Francis.

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“We both share something in common: you and I each have a prosthetic leg below the knee,” Bishop O’Connell wrote. “Although it is not the same as having my natural leg, I manage to get around pretty well and can perform my duties as Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton without any real problems.”

“Just like me, Bishop O’Connell had to learn to walk again,” Emma said. “I think he was very brave. I know it hurt a lot when he had his operation, because I remember how I felt.”

Although her daughter was a bit anxious about what others would think of her leg, “When she learned [about] Bishop O’Connell … she realized that she was not alone and was so excited when he shared his story and photos with her,” Sandy recalled.

Emma’s journey began in an orphanage, in a country that has long limited children to one per family. Sandy had researched China’s One Child Policy in graduate school; she and Bob knew they would eventually adopt a child from China. The couple have six children older than Emma, four of whom are also adopted.

A medical condition called fibular hemimelia caused Emma’s right lower leg and foot to form improperly in the womb. Her surgery allowed her to learn to walk on a prosthetic leg just a few weeks afterwards, and “at five weeks post-op she was able to skip!” Sandy exclaimed. “She has shown us that she can overcome any obstacle … this disability will not slow her down.”

“I love going to St. Mary Academy,” Emma said, “because I love the principal Ms. [Lizanne] Coyne and love learning about Mary and baby Jesus and God. I have made a lot of new, good friends who care about me. My teacher, Mrs. [Pamela] Kovacs, has taught me that I can count on God’s love every day.”

Her Baptism was very important to her, “because then I knew I would someday go to heaven and be with God.”

“We are so grateful for all that Bishop O’Connell has done for our daughter,” Sandy said. “He helped her feel better about herself and showed her that being different does not have to … limit what she can accomplish.”

Interviews by Mary Stadnyk contributed to this story.

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