Happy, smiley and giggly. Those are a few of the words anyone who knows 4-year-old Willow would use to describe her. She is quite the prankster who loves to make others laugh along with her and can often be found dancing, jumping and playing to her heart’s content. However, her heart has been through much more than most. Before even being born, Willow was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Essentially, she has half of a heart.
“The day we found out about Willow’s condition was nothing short of life changing. A transition from the world we once knew to a different one, not a worse world, not a better world, but a different world,” explains Cassie, Willow’s mom. They entered a world filled with open heart surgeries, long hospital stays and intensive procedures. Despite all those things, Willow continues to live life to the fullest. Willow’s family sees the world a little different now, but they cherish their time together more than anything.
It was Willow’s pediatrician and Make-A-Wish® North Dakota board member, Dr. Eric Lunn, who told the family about the possibility of a wish. After Willow was found eligible, her wish granting volunteers, Mary and Brittany, engaged her in the discovery of her wish. Willow loves the water so there was no hesitation in her wish being to see the waves. The waves of the ocean have always been peaceful for her. So, in August 2018, Willow and her parents headed to beachy California for some much-needed quality time together.
While there, they stayed in an Airbnb, a Make-A-Wish corporate alliance, right on the beach so Willow was able to see the waves whenever she wanted. On top of spending lots of time by the ocean, Willow was also able to go visit the San Diego Zoo and LEGOLAND®. She also had the chance to see some aquatic animals up close at SeaWorld®. Willow’s parents know that this time spent with Willow is precious. They reflect, ”we are thankful for each minute, relish each giggle, and try hard not to sweat the small stuff. We know so many other parents whose children are no longer here because of this disease, so we do not take for granted the outcome we have had thus far.”
As much as everyone enjoyed playing in the sand and watching the waves crash in and out “over and over and over again,” this trip was so much more than just a nice time. It was an escape from the daily stressors and struggles that come along with a critical illness diagnosis. The memories created in California will last them all a lifetime. “The wish was really something that we will forever hold near to our hearts,” the family shares. We are grateful to Willow and her family for allowing us into their lives and sharing their story.