About 10 years ago this holiday season, Arizona wish kid Casper could not get out of bed to meet Santa. It was an unusual occurrence for the lively little boy, just 4 years old at the time, so they headed to the hospital to see what might be keeping little Casper down.
It was then that Casper was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and his family's life changed forever.
“We took it in stride but it has definitely made a difference,” said Lori, Casper’s mother. “Now, we are constantly looking for ways to make sure that Casper can do the things he wants to do, even with his condition.”
Lori and her husband are not alone in their search. Casper, now 14, is an active participant in his care – researching new methods of controlling his CF and making sure to take note of studies he can discuss with his doctor. It was one of those studies that caught his attention, and eventually led to his wish to go to Australia.
“Some new research came out that inhaling hypertonic saline solution could help CF patients and the research came from studying a surfer community in Australia,” said Casper. “The surfers had better lung function than any other CF patient. Once I heard that, I started learning to surf at surf camps. I then wanted to go to Australia to see the best surfing waves in the world and where the study happened. I wanted to see if it would help me too.”
So, Casper wished for an Australian adventure from his volunteer wish granters and soon found himself on an 18-hour flight down under.
“I was really excited to get to go, and to know I was going to surf in Sydney and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef,” said Casper. “The flight was long so we [he and his siblings] had some time to get our homework done on the way there.”
“Not that any of it was actually completed,” said Lori with a laugh.
Instead, the family prepped their plans for the days that didn’t include special outings arranged by Make-A-Wish Arizona and talked about what they were going to see on arrival. According to both Casper and Lori, they had no idea how great it would be.
Casper’s Australian wish started with the city of Cairns, and a tour of the Great Barrier Reef.
“We went on the boat, a semi-submersible, and snorkeling for the whole day!” said Casper. “I thought we would see a few fish but we saw so many and so much coral. At some points, there was only two feet of room between me and the coral. It was amazing.”
“We also saw a giant clam – I could put half my body in it! We touched it so it would close. It was very cool,” he continued. “And we saw a reef shark but when we swam toward it, it swam away. And a parrot fish, eating all the coral and pooping out the white sand that the beach is made from!”
From below the ocean to above the trees, Casper’s next day was for zip lining in Daintree Rainforest, the world’s oldest rainforest.
“We had code names from the movies, I was Thor,” said Casper. “We did the hamster wheel and then I went with my brother on the zip lines. There was a strap that would let you control how fast or slow you wanted to go.”
Casper and his family went through six platforms, learning about the ecology of the rainforest while zipping and flipping high above the trees.
“There was one platform where you could see the rainforest, the mountains and the ocean,” said Casper. “It was amazing.”
While in Cairns during their free time, the family had breakfast with the birds at the Wildlife Habitat at Port Douglas and snuggled with some koala bears. The family then headed to Sydney for the big reason for the wish – surfing on Manly Beach.
“I thought they were just going to give us some boards and send us out there, and we would have to figure it out, but they gave us lessons,” said Casper. Soon, he and his siblings were joining the ‘monkey line’ of surfers on their boards and heading out to hit the waves.
“We surfed for about an hour each day and I got up a few times,” said Casper.
The family also hit the boardwalk and tried out some local food, which Casper said was quite good. He was especially fond of the fact that everything had eggs on it and mom was happy to find so many gluten free choices too.
During their free time in Sydney, they visited an aboriginal center that featured lunch in the forest and showcased some didgeridoo music. Casper, a trumpet player in school, decided he had to have one and has even been practicing at home.
“It was easy to play because I play the trumpet. You just have to have loose lips,” said Casper.
In total, the trip was a success not only for the big things they all got to do, but for the little things that were just for the family.
“Every day, Casper is fighting for his life so it was good to just be somewhere where we could enjoy each other and relax as a family,” said Lori.
Casper agreed. “Twice a day, every day, I have to do a 30-minute breathing treatment with a heavy machine that means I have to lie still and just look at whatever,” he said. “In Australia, I was doing my treatments while looking at the ocean or the rainforest and hearing the waves. It was so cool to have that happen. To be there, with my treatments, but to know I was there for something better.”