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Community rallies for Westmont's Emily Wheeler

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 1:37 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013 6:36 p.m. CDT
Erica Emily Wheeler, along with her sister Jennifer and mother Mary, react to the surprise parade held with the help of friends, family, neighbors, bagpipers and Scottish dancers outside Emily's home in Westmont in efforts to support Emily, who is battling cancer.
Erica Bagpipers from various organizations gather outside Emily Wheeler's home in Westmont while participating in the community surprise parade to support Emily, who is battling cancer.

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WESTMONT – Emily Wheeler was relaxing, watching TV and playing a board game with family when she heard the sounds early Saturday.

“At first when I heard the music ... I was so surprised,” said Wheeler, a 14-year-old Westmont High School freshman.

What she heard were bagpipes played by about 45 bagpipe players just outside her door. They were escorted by police and firefighters from Westmont, as well.

It was all for Emily, who has been locked in a battle with a rare form of brain cancer, choroid plexus carcinoma, since age 11.

Emily’s father, Steve Wheeler, explained the impromptu parade was to show support for his daughter.

“[The parade] is just to bring Emily some happiness with everything that’s going on,” Steve Wheeler said. “Just to see her smile and knowing that she’s not in this alone is really the point.”

Steve Wheeler’s friend; Joe Coakley, a bagpiper, helped recruit the performers.

“I figured I could get six or seven guys out there and then people started coming forward,” said Coakley, who has been a bagpiper since 1989. “I’m not a coordinator or event planner by any stretch, but she deserves it and I’ll do anything in my power to be sure she gets it.

“The whole idea is that she’s in a tough battle and bagpipes are a symbol of war,” Coakley added. “Even if it’s only momentarily, we’re hoping to get her mind off her battle.”

Steve Wheeler was taken back by the turnout. They estimated more than 100 people came out for the parade.

“It’s just amazing. We live in such a great area,” he said. “I’m just amazed at the kindness of people. You hear all the bad stuff and this just shows what a great community we live in.”

For Emily, the day was a boost and a reminder that she has support as she continues her battle.

“I saw how many people do care about you,” she said.

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