The community pulled together Thursday night to support 3-year-old Emma Hayden as she was presented with the trip of her dreams from the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana. In a room filled with close friends and family, Minnie Mouse decorations and a cake to celebrate, Emma was presented with a much anticipated trip to Disney World.
A wide smile spread across her face as the wish granters offered her hope through a trip she has been looking forward to, and trying to get stronger for.
“It’s great that she’s able to be here to enjoy it; we feel very blessed. She’s never been to Disney World before,” said Emma’s dad, Travis.
Emma was born premature, with HELLP Syndrome, a condition that can threaten the life of both mother and baby.
“The blessing in the rough start to her life is that there was a watchful eye on her,” said Emma’s mom, Melody. “We kept thinking that something was not right. She was constipated, not eating, not growing, not developing.”
Doctors ordered an MRI in April 2018 to see if there was a tethered spinal cord, which could explain her constipation. What was found was quite alarming. Wrapped around all the nerves on her spine from L-1 to L-4, was a large tumor.
The radiologist came out and was crying; that was scary,” Meldody said. “He told us that we were being admitted and we ended up there for the next month with the order of multiple tests including scans, MRIs and lots of extra eyes and ears on her.”
Tests revealed neuroblastoma, a diagnosis that led to several surgeries, numerous tests, doctor’s visits and plenty of uncertainty. Melody said that even during the toughest times, what helped the family stay strong was hope and the support of the community.
“I never in a million years and thought I’d have a kid with cancer,” she said “It’s the type of thing you sit in bed at night and hope never happens. But I kept thinking at least she wasn’t kidnapped. She’s still here with us.”
The Hayden family met with Make-A-Wish for the first time in November 2018. At this point, Emma’s new wish granters, Cynthia Schadler and Brittany Stallings stepped in. Knowing that statistically children have shown improvement after getting their wish, helps the two volunteers find purpose in their mission.
“It’s a way to give families hope,” Schadler said. “This is not a last wish organization, despite what many people think. Eighty percent of those receiving a wish go on to beat their illness. I’ve met people who went through this process, had their wish granted and are healthy to this day.”
Everyone in the room was excited to see Emma’s reaction, knowing she will receive her wish in just a few weeks from now, over the Thanksgiving holiday. After spending more than half her life sick, her wish granters describe this as something that will be magical.
“It makes you proud to be from a community that supports each other like this. Party Paper Place arranged the display of all the balloons, Papa John’s provided the pizzas and Meijer donated the cake,” said Lori Brubaker, volunteer and wish granter. “I provide them the date for the wish child and they always come through for us.”
According to Melody, there’s a silver lining when one goes through something like this. Make-A-Wish gives families something to look forward to. Beyond going to the oncologist, waiting for the next scan or experiencing the unknown aspects of scan anxiety, she says there is no greater gift than hope in the midst of uncertainty.
“They have already been through so much; just getting away with their family and not having to worry about doctor’s visit will be so good for them,” said Stallings.