A wish is granted

"Where dreams come trueChildrens’ Wish Foundation International is a non-profit organization based out of Atlanta that helps children with potentially terminal diseases do something they have always dreamed of. The organization works nationally. To find out more about it, visit Children's Wish Foundation's site on the Internet, or call 1-800-323-WISH. For updates on Jessica's health, visit the family's Web site.Photo: Jessica Waterford (front) came to Whidbey Island this week through the Children’s Wish Foundation to visit her grandparents Sara and Marty Benum. Also pictured are Jessica’s parents, Kate and Albert, her brother Alexander, sister Camille, and cousin Sarah Elliott.Matt Johnson / staff photoJessica Waterford could not tell her parents exactly what she wanted to do on Thanksgiving. Afflicted with a brain tumor early this year and in the midst of a new round of chemotherapy, the 7-year-old Tampa, Fla. girl can no longer speak. So it was up to Kate and Albert Waterford to ask their daughter yes and no questions until they discovered where she would be happiest on Turkey Day. As it turns out, that place was actually two places -- she wanted to go to her grandparents’ houses in San Diego and on Whidbey Island.About $12,000 in debt from Jessica’s cancer treatments, the Waterfords were certain they could not afford to fly their family of five across the country to visit the family Jessica so desperately wanted to see on Thanksgiving. Their only hope was a gift from an organization that grants wishes to children with potentially fatal diseases.Initially, the Waterfords were not sure if any wish organization would be able to help Jessica. They applied to one in Tampa, which offered only to send her to Disneyworld over the holiday. That almost put the brakes on the family’s trip.“Financially, there’s no way we could have afforded it,” Albert Waterford said.But a second organization, the Children’s Wish Foundation International, promptly agreed to put the family on a plane bound for the West Coast. Arriving at Sea-Tac airport on Nov. 24, Jessica and her family were mobbed with the attentions of grandparents Sara and Marty Benum, aunts, uncles, cousins, and scores of complete strangers on South Whidbey. Even before the family arrived on the island, the congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church prepared a special welcome for the Sunday worship service, even as local businesses like Momentum Health Club and Moonraker Books offered their services to the Waterfords for free or at a discount.Making sure their granddaughter was comfortable and happy was the Benums’ most important task. At home, Jessica spends no more than five days out of 15 feeling anything like normal. Since February, chemotherapy, steroid injections, and other treatments have kept her nauseated for more than a week at a time. She has lost almost all of her curly brown hair and her weight has nearly doubled over the past nine months.But, sitting in a Freeland motel room with her family Sunday, Jessica was all smiles.“She loves to be around people,” said Kate Waterford.The Benums said they are happy to have Jessica with them in any condition, and feel fortunate that she was able to make the trip. Her family’s flight out of Tampa was delayed a few days because of Jessica’s low white blood cell count, which initially threw the whole trip into doubt.Though everyone seemed to have a good time that day at the motel, Jessica’s grandfather noted the underlying tug of sadness of the occasion.“It’s real sad. It’s real hard. But, this is a unit that functions together,” Marty Benum said.Strangely enough, outside of her cancer, Jessica has proven more resilient health-wise than the rest of her family during most of the past year. The immune-system boosting drugs she takes has made her seemingly invulnerable to common illnesses, said her father. But that protection did not extend to him when he had an allergic reaction to the Benums’ cat on the day of the family’s belated Thanksgiving celebration. He had to check into the Freeland motel for the remainder of his stay.“She’s the only one in the family since this began who hasn’t been ill,” said Albert Waterford with a broad smile.Jessica’s visit was also special because it was the first time she had ever been to Whidbey Island. Her parents say that her current round of therapy seems to be decreasing the size of her tumor."

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