Julie’s journey started the day before Thanksgiving in 2013; a day she and her family will never forget.
“We knew something wasn’t right,” said Lori, Julie’s mom. Julie had been fighting a cold for a few days, but it quickly turned into something much more serious. Her parents rushed her to the ER and it didn’t take long for the doctors to come to a devastating conclusion; Julie had cardiomyopathy and her heart was failing, pumping at just 10%. “It all happened so quickly,” Lori recalled, “We didn’t know what to think or how to react, we just knew we had to do whatever we could to save her life.”
And less than a month later, Julie was medically evacuated to Seattle Children’s hospital where she would see something that changed her life; and this time, in a good way. As she lay in the gurney, flying above Seattle on a cold winter night, she looked out the window and saw snowflakes falling. It was a beauty she had never seen before, and amidst all the chaos, a sense of calm came over her; in that moment her mind wandered from fear.
But, fear was all Julie’s family could feel. They uprooted their lives to be with their daughter and moved into Seattle’s Ronal McDonald house while Julie received treatment. “Before her wish was granted, life was simply day-by-day; it was a new, entirely different routine of medications, doctor appointments, lab work, therapy,” said Lori. It was during this time that Lori was approached by their social worker for a wish. At first, she was reluctant and decided that they would revisit the opportunity once Julie was healthy enough to make the decision on her own. And just two months after being put on the transplant list, they received the good news; Julie would receive a new heart!
While in recovery, Julie said “yes” to Make-A-Wish and we immediately got her wish started back in Hawaii. Step one? Find wish granters! Mark Lee and Sandra Taca stepped in and the two instantly connected with the whole family. When they asked Julie to dream, she was brought back to that moment she saw snow falling at the beginning of her journey. She wanted to experience snow again, but this time, she wanted to see it surrounded by joy and in the country of her ancestors; Japan!
“Julie missed the entire second quarter of school this past year; she had no incentive to attend,” said Lori. “But when it was revealed to her that she would be going to Japan, she found the strength to go to school, to get physically stronger! Her wish was the nudge she needed.”
Julie’s wish reveal was anything but ordinary; she was surprised on National Believe Day in front of an excited crowd in Macy’s. During the celebration, she found out that her wish was taken one step further; she would go to the Sapporo Snow Festival with the Sheraton Waikiki ice sculpting team! “It was like a sensation of all kinds of feelings, like happiness, excitement… mostly happiness and excitement. It was just great to see this happen, and I really didn’t expect anything either,” said Julie.
And soon, it was off to Sapporo with the “Team Hawaii” ice sculpting team who began to refer to Julie as their “lucky charm.” They made her feel like she was a part of the team and even asked her to make a small ice sculpture of her own as they worked on their massive art piece. When it came time, she even joined them on stage and accepted the award for 4th place!
For the first time, Julie felt truly connected to her roots. She discovered all the sights, sounds and tastes of Sapporo with her family. “It allowed the whole family to feel a part of the wish; we couldn’t have pulled the whole family together on our own.”
The wish journey was full of memorable moments and exciting events, but perhaps the most special of them all happened just as their trip was coming to an end. During their excursion to Tokyo, Julie and her family visited the famed Tokyo Tower and saw a wall of traditional Japanese “Ema,” small wooden plaques where visitors write their prayers or wishes. These “Ema” came in two shapes; an outline of the Tokyo Tower and of course, a heart. Julie picked up her heart and instead of writing what her wish would be, she wrote about what her wish experience has been. She held her heart in her hands and delicately placed it on the wall of wishes. “It was the perfect way to end the trip,” recounted Lori.
Her heart will forever be marked with the magical memories of this amazing journey. “After the wish experience, a wish lives on,” said Lori. “It’s something we will never forget; we talk about it all the time. And when something reminds Julie of the trip, it immediately brings a smile to her face. It gave her a real happy ending and set her on her path of healing.” And today, thanks in part to the power of a wish, Julie’s heart is beating stronger than ever.
Special Thanks: Team Hawaii Ice Sculpting Team, Hawaiian Airlines, Macy's, Gyotaku, Platinum Limousine, Mark Lee & Sandra Taca.