Ever since she was a little girl, 17 year-old Kami of Lander, Wyoming had dreamed of traveling to Hawaii. When she was very small she had visited a beach in California, but the only memories she had of that trip were through still photographs and the stories of others. Kami and her family would fantasize about a trip to the islands, a trip to the beach. Yet that remained a collective dream for a long time.
Kami lives every single day with the effects of a degenerative motor neuron disorder, making the task of getting around a life-long struggle. She’s watched other girls “who ‘walk normal’ or who have ‘pretty legs’” while hers are wrapped in orthotics beneath jeans. But in Kami’s own words, in a letter to future wish recipients, she believes “you were given this life because you’re strong enough to handle it.”
When she was first referred Kami was skeptical that she, a 17 year old, deserved a wish. She felt guilt. Was she too old? Would this wish take away a wish from another child? Make-A-Wish grants the wishes of all eligible children with a illness described as progressive, degenerative, or malignant and is between the ages of 2 ½ and 18. Kami qualified to have her wish granted but the skepticism and guilt remained.
In December 2016, Kami’s wish to travel to Hawaii with her family was granted.
Though Kami wished to see beaches and spend time with her family, she also told her wish granters about the history of Pearl Harbor that she had been studying in school. On Kami’s fish day in Hawaii, she attended the 75th Pearl Harbor Commemoration in Oahu. The theme for the ceremonies was “Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future,” and for Kami the trip to Pearl Harbor did just that. She met the veterans who were present during Pearl Harbor and the young servicemen and women who are active in serving their country currently. She shook hands with the same heroes in person that she had learned about in the classroom. “They are so positive after everything they’ve been through,” shared Kami who felt a deeper connection after the commemoration for the men and women she had studied.
She left the ceremonies that day feeling as if the entire day she had “stood out in a crowd,” something that she had always wanted and would carry with her for the rest of the life. On that day she wasn’t a girl with an illness, she was a wish child inspiring others. “The wish made me feel like I do have a purpose,” she elaborated on her experience. The trip experience taught her that she can have an impact on others and the world around her.
Kami’s mom had always said to her, “don’t wish you could, be proud of what you can.” When visiting the beach Kami had to be in a wheelchair to get down to the water, because the walk was long and strenuous to the sandy shore. Once she reached the shoreline, staff brought out a wheelchair that could float in the water while Kami could ride safely atop it. Her father took the wheelchair and the two floated calmly out into the surf on a sunny day in Hawaii. Kami spent an afternoon in the water uninhibited by her illness.
Among the experiences in Hawaii, a dolphin named Kaikao quickly became one of Kami’s favorite parts of the trip. Kaikao is a 30 year old dolphin who requires special sensory handling due to being blind in one eye. The two bonded with a short meeting, Kami grabbed a fin and Kaikao maneuvered her through the water. “Just being in the water, not having to worry about [her] legs” was a magical introduction to an animal she had never spent any time with before her wish trip.
With views of the ocean and sand in their toes, Kami and her family healed together after an emotional journey through Kami’s illness. For Kami the memories she made in Hawaii are forever. The memories of Kaikao, the memories of the WWII veterans, the memories of the ocean will continue to inspire and encourage her.
If you ask Kami now, there is no guilt. There are no misconceptions. With her newfound purpose after her wish was granted she affirms that “every child deserves a wish,” and the good in their lives after hardships of illness. “There is only one of you in this entire universe and you deserve so much more than you may believe,” she wrote to future wish recipients.
Kami’s wish was “life changing,” as a life-long dream to visit Hawaii became reality for her entire family. “My wish made me realize, I’m not alone in this.”