McKenna’s family was having a normal day when they received news that their daughter had an extremely rare case of ALS, a degenerative condition where your brain stops sending signals for your muscles to move.
“When McKenna said she couldn’t move her foot, naturally we thought she must have torn a muscle playing tennis or something. Then, we learned about her diagnosis and how extremely rare it is - her chances were close to 1 in a billion,” explained McKenna’s mom, Margaret.
Generally, the age for onset ALS is between 50- to 60-years-old. But in McKenna’s case, she had her first onset symptom this past August.
It was not long after her diagnosis that Make-A-Wish Arizona came into McKenna’s life. When she learned she could have any type of wish granted, she wished to see Orcas and humpback whales in the wild.
“I chose to go on an Alaskan cruise because these whales are my favorite animals and I’ve always wanted to see where they live,” said McKenna. “When I found out my wish was coming true, I couldn’t wait!”
As the date of McKenna’s wish trip grew closer, her volunteer wish granters made it their mission to keep her family focused on the fun that she was going to have on her wish trip.
“Our wish granters were absolutely amazing and did an awesome job at getting not only McKenna, but our entire family so excited for her wish trip!” said Margaret. “They made this black and white countdown chain that looked like an orca and each day leading up to our trip, McKenna would come to my room and say ‘mom, mom we have to open today’s chain!’ Each piece had a new fact on Alaska, orcas or whales."
“I can’t tell you how nice that was. McKenna could focus on her trip and our whole family had something to look forward to,” she said.
Once aboard the cruise, McKenna truly received VIP treatment.
“I made a vanilla cake with the Executive Chef and I went to the arcade, where they gave me toys from the claw machine!” said McKenna, who became good friends with the crew.
“The captain was so nice and friendly to me, he took me to a bridge to lookout over the ocean and see the whales,” she said. “Then he called us in our room later on and invited us back to the bridge to get a better look at the whales with him.”
In addition to the fun on the ship, McKenna loved the excursions her family experienced on land too.
“In Victoria, British Columbia, we saw orcas jumping out of the water,” said McKenna. “I watched a family of five orcas swimming in the ocean, which was really cool. But we did so much more than see whales; we also saw other wild animals, like seals and sea lions!”
“One of my favorite parts of the whole trip was in Skagway when I held an Alaskan sled dog puppy. It was so adorable; it looked like a little yellow lab!” she said. “We also met a sled dog named Apollo who was so fun and crazy! The entire time we were with them, all Apollo wanted to do was pull the sled and start racing.”
McKenna’s family also became Alaskan gold miners for a day.
“Another really fun day from the trip was panning for gold. I took a pan, they filled it up with rocks, then I swirled water around and everything would disappear from the pan except for the gold! By the end of the day, we had $28 worth of gold. Totally rich!” she said.
Between all the activities and excursions, McKenna and her family took some time to look outside each day and appreciate the natural beauty of Alaska. McKenna, who has always dreamed of seeing the glaciers, will never forget their time visiting Glacier Bay.
“The glaciers were 250 feet tall! We actually saw one glacier starting to slowly move, and when the ice broke off it was so loud it sounded like thunder,” she explained. “It was so cool though, I wasn’t scared! It was exactly what I had pictured when I was looking forward to my wish.”
As their wish trip came to an end, McKenna’s mom said the cherry on top of their entire trip was how enjoyable and easy everyone made it for McKenna with her wheelchair.
“When we saw the orcas, there was one place without a ramp, so the crew from the cruise walked right up and lifted McKenna’s wheelchair onto the boat,” said Margaret. “They made everything so convenient for McKenna and her experience was so special.”
Now back home, McKenna and her family treasure all the unforgettable things they were able to see and do on her wish trip.
“Our family has been donating to Make-A-Wish Arizona long before McKenna’s diagnosis, and it’s incredible we are now being blessed by the generosity of this organization. We enjoyed everything so much, especially because we could create all these beautiful memories with McKenna as a family,” said Margaret. “The whole experience exceeded all of our expectations and McKenna had the best time – you could see the excitement in her eyes."