15-year-old Reece was born with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome. That means he physically only has half of a working heart and yet still manages to have one of the biggest hearts that those who know him have ever seen.
It was one of his nurses who referred him to Make-A-Wish® North Dakota. After he found out that he was eligible for a wish, Reece immediately started brainstorming about all the possibilities. His parents made a conscious effort not to influence his decision because “for once in his life he got to make the calls,” explains his mom, Angie. It didn’t take long for Reece to think about his favorite Australian surfing show and how awesome it would be to try it himself. So, then 13-year-old, Reece wished to go surfing in Australia!
He and his family were all ready for the trip, although Reece was a bit nervous for the 14-hour flight from North Dakota to the land down under, when something unexpected happened. Reece was further diagnosed with Kyphosis, an extreme curvature of the spine, which was threatening to put him into organ failure. This meant he would need to undergo a long, rigorous surgery to insert rods in his back. While the trip needed to be put on hold, Reece’s mom explained that this was the instance when she saw the impact of his wish the most. “It was in those moments in the hospital that I realized the power a wish could bring him. He was constantly being told all the things that he couldn’t do but he knew he had his wish and it would be exactly what he wanted,” Angie says. He had something to look forward to and this helped him get through those days.
After being cleared to travel again, the day had finally come and, although there had been little sleep the night before, the excitement was palpable. Reece and his family made the long flight to Australia and began their adventure. Everything from snorkeling around the Great Barrier Reef to getting to pet Reece’s favorite animal, a koala, at the zoo. But most importantly, Reece got to take his very first surfing lesson. As a bonus he even met his favorite lifeguard from his favorite show who drove him around the beach in a buggy.
And although much to mom’s dismay Reece chose to eat many meals at McDonalds, she says that it was nice to watch him do exactly what he wanted to do. “The confidence surfing gave him in his abilities and strength was so inspiring for all of us,” says Angie. “It was great to see him be a boy with no fear!”