For 9-year-old Ella and her family, baseball is more than just a pastime; it’s a way of life.
The family are among the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Baseball team’s biggest fans, attending nearly every game. “[They’ve] been here for us since day one,” explained catcher Chayce Ka’aua. “[Ella’s] right here next to the dugout giving us high fives.”
Baseball is how this family of five comes together in good times—and in bad.
When Ella was unexpectedly diagnosed with a brain tumor, baseball was what united her family and her entire community, starting with their favorite team. The Warriors had heard that their biggest fan wasn’t doing well. So, head coach Mike Trapasso and several members of the team made a surprise visit to Ella at the hospital, giving her the strength she needed to get through an 11-hour brain surgery.
“They really are just great fans, great people,” said Trapasso. “When we found out that she was going through all this…it was such a shock to us.”
After the players’ visit to the hospital, Ella truly became part of the team. Her family shared regular updates on her illness with Trapasso, and the players welcomed Ella as honorary bat girl; their support inspired Ella to keep fighting as she fielded the curve balls her health had thrown her.
“We really just wanted to show her that we’re here for her, and she doesn’t have to go through this alone,” said Ka’aua.
Also getting Ella and her family through this difficult time was her wish to go to Walt Disney World® and the Make-A-Wish community that had recently come into her life, including wish granters Talia and Ja’. The two spent a lot of time with Ella and her family, doing crafts together and bonding over all of Ella’s favorite things: baseball, unicorns, and amusement park rides.
“Talia and Ja’ have amazing hearts, and they meshed perfectly with our family,” said wish mom Jena. “They will forever be part of our ohana!”
Soon, her wish was all she could think about. When Ella wasn’t watching baseball, she was watching videos of Disney’s attractions on YouTube and planning out what she wanted to do if her wish were to come true. “[She was] hoping ‘Oh, if we get to go, I want to go on this one first,” said Jena. “She’s a very adventurous kid.”
Talia and Ja’ knew they needed to make Ella’s wish reveal as memorable as they could. The two worked with Make-A-Wish Hawaii and the Warriors to plan a special reveal at one of the team’s home games.
It was a Sunday just like any other; Ella and her family arrived at Les Murakami stadium ready for a day of family fun and baseball. But soon, Ella started noticing friends, aunts, and uncles arrive. At first, she thought maybe it was her birthday party, but she didn’t know the surprise coming her way.
The team had reserved the bull pen for Ella, and Talia and Ja’ had spent the morning decorating it in “unicorn everything!” as wish mom Jena says. When Ella walked into the pen, she realized this was more than a birthday party. “Ella hugged me and cried when she realized it was wish day!” said Jena. “It reminded me of the same hug she gave me when the doctors told her she was ready to go home from the hospital.”
Ella and her family were invited onto the field to watch a video of her story, featuring photos from her journey, including that very first visit to the hospital. The video ended with the kind of announcement fit for a champion, as the players jumped and chanted in unison: “Ella, you’re going to Disney World!”
“This day was one of the best days of my life. It made me thankful and blessed that I had these wonderful people here that were supporting Ella,” said Jena. “It sure gave me hope!”
Ella’s wish marked her win in the fight against cancer—a win more special than any other seen in the stadium. And, now, it was time to celebrate.
Ella rode all the rides she’d dreamed about at Disney, but the best part of her wish was the role it played in uniting her family after their difficult journey.
“My favorite part of the wish had to have been when all five of us were standing in front of the castle at Magic Kingdom watching the fireworks and the light show,” said Jena. “The theme of the show was Happily Ever After. We all hugged and cried and said this was OUR happily ever after. It was a moment I will treasure forever.”
The wish transformed not only their lives, but those of the Warriors as well. “I may be her role model, but I honestly look up to her now,” said one of Ella’s favorite players, catcher Kekai Rios. “She’s my role model.”
Mahalo to the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and wish granters Talia and Ja’ for supporting Ella and her family throughout their journey. Our community is vital to granting life-changing wishes for kids like Ella.