Posted 7/03/13 (Wed)
By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer
Clara Wisness, like most everyone her age, dreams of playing on a sandy beach to her heart’s content. Except for Clara, that dream also includes a desire to build sandcastles.
Clara is 3½ years old. But unlike so many other toddlers, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia at 2½ years of age. Before Clara was diagnosed, her mother, Heather Wisness, claims that her beach experience was limited to the time she and her family spent at Tobacco Gardens. Now, however, thanks to Make-A-Wish North Dakota, and the fact that she is healthy enough to travel, Clara’s beach exposure is about to be expanded and her wish to make sandcastles is about to come true.
“Discovering the wish for a 3½- year-old girl can be difficult,” states Chris Kubal, Keene resident and Make-A-Wish North Dakota volunteer. “Most kids that young don’t really know what their wish is.”
“Clara got sick when she was 2½ and hasn’t been able to do a lot since then, so exploring her wish was tricky,” states Clara’s mom.
According to Kubal and Heather, Clara was referred to Make-A-Wish North Dakota about six months after her diagnosis. The process of exploring what her wish might be began soon after that.
“It was pretty cool,” states Heather. “They gave her coloring books to try and see what she might be interested in.”
“We were throwing around a bunch of ideas and options, when out of the blue she told us she wanted to go to the beach,” Kubal states.
Later, Clara expanded that desire into a wish to build sandcastles.
According to her mom, Clara has been building pretend castles in the doctor’s offices she visits. Now, after a year of undergoing treatments, she will finally have the chance to build real sandcastles on the white sand of St. Pete Beach in Florida.
At a Wish Enhancement event in the Keene Community Park, on Saturday, June 29, Make-A-Wish revealed to Clara the plans for her granted wish. Not only would she be able to build sandcastles, but she, her parents, Heather and Beau, and her two siblings, Amelia and Charlie, would spend the week at TradeWinds Island Grand Resort on St. Pete Beach in Florida.
“I think Clara thinks she is going to the beach at Tobacco Gardens,” states Heather. “When she sees the beach in Florida, she is going to be so excited.”
Not only did Make-A-Wish give Clara and her family a week to play on the beach, but Make-A-Wish North Dakota also revealed another surprise to Clara. While in Florida, she, and her family, will get the chance to meet her, and her sister’s, favorite actor, the dolphin Winter from the movie Dolphin Tale.
Winter resides at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, near St. Pete Beach. While there, Clara and her family can choose to participate in other activities like feeding stingrays, interacting with other dolphins or taking an Eco-Boat Tour.
According to Kubal and Heather, the process of making Clara’s wish come true has taken between six to seven months. It was partly because her wish to build sandcastles was discovered in the winter months. But it was also due to the fact that they couldn’t leave town until Clara’s doctor said it was okay.
“We had to wait until she was healthy enough to travel,” states Heather. “She began the last phase of her treatment in May, but she still had to maintain some normalcy after that. Her doctor only recently gave her the green light for travel.”
According to Brandon Lemer, president and CEO of Make-A-Wish North Dakota, the organization grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions. According to Kelly Braun, vice president of the Make-A-Wish North Dakota board, they are on pace to grant 40 wishes this year, and six of those wishes are in southwestern North Dakota.
“We are always looking for volunteers,” states Kubal. “We currently have two volunteers in the Watford City area, but we always need more.”
In addition to volunteering, Braun states that people or businesses can choose to sponsor or adopt wishes. In fact, Braun states that Clara’s wish was made possible by the Dickinson Noon Lions Club, one of the organization’s supporters.
Every little bit helps, according to Lemer, even donating air miles.
“It takes between seven and nine million air miles a year to do what we do,” states Lemer. “And air miles expire. But when they are donated to us, they never expire, so that is a great way to give to Make-A-Wish North Dakota.”
Make-A-Wish and the Keene Community celebrated Clara at the Wish Enhancement event on Saturday. Make-A-Wish gave Clara some final supplies for her trip, and the Wisness’ family, friends and community members gave her and her family well wishes and sent them off with love and encouragement.
Clara, her parents, her five-year-old sister and her eight-month-old brother left for St. Pete Beach on Sunday, June 30. They were taken to the Williston Airport by limo early that morning, and arrived in Florida in enough time to get some playtime in before supper.