It was a wish that 12-year-old Emma Willison thought would never come true.
Emma, who has cystic fibrosis, has always been fascinated with dolphins. She often dreamed of frolicking with the sea animals on some sunny isle.
“Dolphins have been my favorite animal since I was little,” Emma recalls. “I used to watch the TV show ‘Flipper’ and thought they were so cute. I love visiting the dolphins at the Long Beach Aquarium. They seemed so sweet, kind and soft.”
Aware that her daughter was fond of the sea creatures, Emma’s mom, Lydia, flew into action.
The medical billing coordinator contacted the Make a Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to chronically ill children.
“We filled out an application and then we had an interview with the Foundation,” recalls Lydia.
“My daughter was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when she was 14 months old,” said Lydia. “Cystic fibrosis causes inflammation of the pancreas and inflammation of the lungs,” said Lydia, who added that the disease currently has no cure.
Emma, who also was diagnosed with diabetes, takes insulin shots and takes extensive medications on a daily basis.
Emma’s brother, 10-year-old Spencer, also helps his sister. “I remind her to take her medicine,” said Spencer, who wants to grow up to be a fireman or a pilot.
Despite her illness, Lydia said Emma is an average teenage girl who loves hip hop dancing, adores talk show host Tyra Banks and dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She attends Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Brentwood and maintains a 3.2 grade point average.
After Lydia submitted an application for her daughter who also had to undergo an interview, Emma said she had no idea whether or not her wish would be chosen. “The Make a Wish Foundation notified us in October of 2006 and said that my wish had been granted,” said Emma. Initially excited about the upcoming trip, Emma’s hopes were dashed when her cystic fibrosis flared up and she had to postpone her trip.
Emma was able to realize her dream this July, when she accompanied several family members and friends flew to Oahu, Hawaii and visited the Sea Life Park.
Emma said she was ‘ecstatic’ when she arrived at the park and spotted dolphins in the pool.
“The dolphins swim right up to you,” Emma says. “My instructor introduced me to a dolphin named Bo. I got into the pool and I was a little nervous,” Emma recalled. “The water was cold. But I was able to rub Bo’s belly and his back-his skin felt so slippery and soft.”
At the prompting of the instructor, Emma grabbed Bo’s fins and the two took off through the sea blue water.
“It was so much fun,” said Emma, who frolicked with Bo for about 45 minutes. “Bo was making squeaking noises,” Emma recalls.
The family was also treated to a luau and went snorkeling during their five-day stay. “We also went on a cruise and met the ship’s captain,” recalls Emma.
Lydia said that despite the medical obstacles that her daughter has to endure, she has ingrained in Emma the inner strength and fortitude to deal with her illness at a very young age.
Lydia is also grateful that every few years, medical technology introduces new medicines to fight cystic fibrosis. “The research has extended children’s lives so that they can live longer. Even though there is no cure for the disease, it is no longer a death sentence.”
Lydia said that parents with chronically ill children should not give up hope. “Embrace what God gives you and try to find the positive message in it,” she said. “We live in a world where there are so many good doctors and advances in medical science. These are great modern times where medicines can extend our lives.”
We’re so happy that Emma received a wonderful wish, thanks to the referral by her mom,” said Shelly Ginsberg, a spokeswoman for the Make a Wish Foundation. ‘We want everyone to know that parents or even the child themselves can contact the Make a Wish Foundation directly to ask for a wish.”
To contact the Make a Wish Foundation, call (310) 788-9474 or visit their website at wishla.org.