It was a heart-wrenching Thanksgiving story – but it has a happy ending.
Days before Thanksgiving, thieves took the custom-made wheelchair belonging to Milagros Perez, a 4-year-old from Southern California who was born with a heart condition and no legs. Her parents kept the wheelchair in the alleyway because it doesn’t fit in their cramped apartment.
For days, Milagros was forced to get around on a skateboard. But on Sunday, someone returned the wheelchair to the alleyway.
And the girl’s parents are doubly grateful because the Saul Brandman Foundation said they would not take back the $10,000 it donated to buy Milagros a new wheelchair. The family gets to keep the money for other medical needs that may arise.
Separately, a GoFundMe account was able to raise more than $5,000.
All the while, with or without her wheelchair, little Milagros never stopped smiling. When she learned about of the theft, Los Angeles Times reported, she was the one who consoled her mother.
"It's OK, Mommy. Don't cry anymore," she told her, according to the Times. Maybe the rain washed the chair away, she said.
Milagros (in Spanish, "Miracles") needs the chair to get to and from school, her mother Rosa Isela Perez told KTLA through an interpreter.
After they found out the wheelchair was gone, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the family searched for it in several pawn shops, hoping to find it. That's when they decided to report the theft to police, Milagros' mother said, adding that the thief also took the girl's “Frozen” backpack.
"At this point, we're thinking because it is a specific-need wheelchair, somebody probably stole it to melt it down for money," Santa Ana Police Department Cpl. Anthony Bertagna said at the time.
During the days the chair was gone, Milagros kept an upbeat attitude and an appearance of strength, the mother told the LA Times, but when it suddenly reappeared in the alleyway her joy was visible.
"It's always been that way. I'm the one who cries," Perez said. "She's the strong one. She's the one who gives me the strength to keep going."