Remembering Emma Zemaitaitis Through Our Work

SWEPCO partnered with local groups to build an energy efficient home in Benton, La. as this year’s St. Jude/KTBS 3 Dream Home in Emma’s honor.

In small towns like those in the SWEPCO service territory, it’s not uncommon to see friends and strangers who say hello at the local grocery store; however, for Emma Zemaitaitis, it was a little different. Lots of people would stop and say hello to Emma and her father, Matt, a Senior Customer Operations Associate at the SWEPCO Customer Solutions Center in Shreveport.

“Who is that, Dad? How do they know me? Do they pray for me?” Emma would ask.

At 16 months old, Emma was diagnosed with optic pathway glioma. Matt and his first wife, Michelle, thought that Emma had a lazy eye; however, the doctor immediately identified a tumor during an exam. The family was referred to St. Jude Children’s Hospital in 2004, and Emma received treatment from countless doctors and specialists at the hospital until she passed away on May 28, 2018.

Emma would have turned 15 years old this week.

The Zemaitaitis family relied on care from St. Jude locally in Shreveport but also traveled regularly to consult with a team of endocrinologists, geneticists and neurologists at the research hospital’s main campus in Memphis, Tenn.

“Basically, you go every three months,” said Matt. “So, from 2004 up until [2018], [we traveled to Memphis] every three months. On average, because there were a couple occasions in a year where we were home for only a month or two, and then went right back. Other times, there was a four or five month stretch [at home].”

SWEPCO employees donated vacation time, which made it possible for Matt to travel with his family for Emma’s extensive care.

Emma left a vibrant legacy due to her bright and infectious personality.

After Michelle passed away, Matt later remarried. He met his current wife, Alana, at SWEPCO. While Alana was nervous about a new relationship, she bonded with Emma right away. The first time they met, Emma crawled into her lap and they became fast friends.

“Emma stole my heart the first day I met her,” said Alana, who fondly remembers her big heart.

With firecracker wit, Emma also kept her doctors at St. Jude on their toes. Emma’s doctor at the local Shreveport affiliate hospital, Dr. Majed Jeroudi, treated Emma from the time she was baby. They enjoyed poking fun at one another by repeatedly asking, “Am I annoying you?!” At one point, Emma asked her oncologist in Memphis to “tell Dr. Jeroudi not to annoy me.” After Emma’s passing, Matt and Alana learned that the Memphis doctor complied, bringing a new level to the inside joke between Emma and Dr. Jeroudi.

Stories like Emma’s move us as a company to participate in the St. Jude/KTBS 3 Dream Home Giveaway and bring our SWEPCO family closer together. Each ticket sold goes toward raising money to provide care for patients like Emma.

And, thanks to the SWEPCO energy efficiency team, the new owners of the home will enjoy significant heating and cooling cost savings. Featuring LED bulbs of all shapes and sizes, heat pumps, heat pump water heaters and premium insulation, the home will keep the winner comfortable all year round.

Tickets are on sale online at http://stjude.org/dhshreveport.

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