Sarah’s fascination with the Northern Lights began long before her wish.
While no one in her family is sure how she first heard about them, Sarah would get super excited every time the movie, Brother Bear, would feature the Aurora Borealis. After a while, she was making up songs about the colorful phenomenon in the sky.
“When Sarah gets an idea in her head, there is no changing her mind,” said her mom, Dolores who recognizes that singlemindedness as a symptom of Sarah’s Down Syndrome. “Sarah used to go in our backyard almost every night once it was dark, and she would stand outside looking up at the stars and say ‘I wish upon a star so bright, that I can go see the Northern Lights.’"
Soon enough, showing Sarah videos and cartoons of these lights could not compare. She had to see them for herself.
It was only after an unusual medical scare that Dolores started to believe Sarah might need to see the Northern Lights as soon as possible.
“In August of 2014, Sarah was making strange, involuntary movements and she was admitted to the hospital,” said Dolores. “After months enduring all kinds of medical tests and procedures, we didn’t know what was wrong and, to this day, we still don’t.”
“She went from being a typical kid with Down Syndrome to needing homebound care and a wheelchair,” Dolores continued. “Sarah had a whole team of neurologists and we tried everything, but she hasn’t responded to treatment. Doctors believe it is a brain disorder, but ruled out all known diagnoses and think it is something that has not yet been discovered.”
With this devastating news, Dolores decided to reach out to Make-A-Wish Arizona about the possibility of granting Sarah’s greatest wish.
“I worry that Sarah may not make it to her 18th birthday and it was a horrible feeling knowing I wouldn’t be able to afford a trip to show Sarah the Northern Lights,” she said. “When I found out Sarah’s wish could be granted, it was one of the most moving moments of my life. Make-A-Wish Arizona really turned things around.”
Soon, Sarah began to “make wishes” in her pool at home, throwing things in just like a wishing well.
“First it started with rocks, then it became towels and patio furniture!” said Dolores, with a laugh. “Sarah was really determined for her wish to come true so her wish granters came at the perfect time.”
In the weeks leading up to her trip, people told Sarah to “take pictures” on her trip, so her family was surprised to find her carrying around a suitcase full of family photos.
“We realized she was actually trying to TAKE pictures on her wish!” said Dolores, laughing again. “But Sarah wouldn’t leave without bringing some of them. That way, all of her favorite people could ‘go on the trip’ too.”
From the minute Sarah’s wish began, she was in complete awe.
“In the airport, Sarah insisted on walking and using her wheelchair to carry her luggage,” said Dolores, who was nervous that mobility would be an issue for Sarah with Alaska’s snowy terrain. “We were all so surprised that she really didn’t need her wheelchair the rest of the trip. This was her wish and she was determined to walk everywhere, even through the snow!”
Throughout the week, Sarah, her mom, and her two sisters, Dianna and Elizabeth, had a great time visiting an ice museum, riding snowmobiles and going dog sledding in Alaska.
“Sarah loved giving kisses to the sled dogs, or what she called ‘puppies’ and really enjoyed the ice museum because it reminded her of the castle from Frozen,” said Dolores.
And, when the big day arrived for Sarah to see the Northern Lights, Sarah spent the afternoon waiting patiently in a special Aurora viewing room at their hotel.
“I told Sarah she wouldn’t be able to see anything because the lights are only visible at night but she would not budge,” said Dolores. “She was going to wait to see those lights!”
Around midnight, Sarah and her family headed out into the cold to finally see the Aurora Borealis.
“There’s a big change in the weather from Arizona to Alaska and it was a lot of hard work to put on three layers of clothing and get up in the middle of the night, but Sarah never complained,” said Dolores. “She was so truly happy looking up at the lights and she really understood how much this meant.”
Looking back on the trip, Dolores is so thankful her family was able to share this wish with Sarah.
“It’s very emotional,” said Dolores. “I would not be able to do something like this for Sarah without Make-A-Wish and there are no words to describe the gratitude I feel.”
“My three daughters are so close, so this trip wouldn’t have been complete for Sarah without her sisters, who are her two best friends,” she said. “As a mom, watching them laugh and smile the entire trip brought tears to my eyes.”
Since returning home, Sarah can’t sleep without her Aurora Borealis night light, a special gift from her wish granters.
“Every night, she turns on her ‘Northern Lights’ that display over the ceiling and it’s a wonderful reminder of her wish,” said Dolores.
Sarah has also stopped making wishes in her pool.
“She doesn’t need to anymore,” she said. “Her biggest wish has already come true.”