Eight-year-old Lark sees a lot of herself in Winter, a dolphin that lost her tail. That is why when she had the opportunity to choose a wish, she decided to meet her hero.
“When Lark was a baby, she began experiencing severe respiratory distress and was diagnosed with multiple airway anomalies. These included pulmonary artery sling, complete tracheal rings, elliptical cricoid, and broncho and tracheomalacia, to name a few” said her mother, Holly. “She’s had approximately 50 minor surgeries and 9 major surgeries. One of which was a tracheostomy, which has left her unable to phonate or communicate verbally since she was 6 months old."
Since Lark saw the movie, Dolphin Tale, six years ago, she felt a special connection to Winter.
“Winter had something wrong with her that doctors had to fix, kind of like Lark,” said Holly. “Winter has a prosthetic fin so she’s different than all the other dolphins, but she can still do all the same things they can. I think Lark really identifies with that.”
Winter’s inspiring story stuck with Lark so much so that, even years after seeing the film, Lark wished to meet her.
“We found out we were going to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Winter’s home in Florida, to not only see the dolphins Winter and Hope from the movie but all kinds of other sea creatures, fish and marine life,” Holly said.
It all started with a surprise limousine ride to the airport.
“We had no idea were going to be picked up in a limo,” Holly said. “When the kids saw a limousine turn onto the cul-de-sac, they couldn’t believe their eyes.”
The journey continued with a hero’s welcome from American Airlines. Crew members greeted them at the gate with signs welcoming Lark. Lark also got to go inside the cockpit of the plane. The pilot even made a special announcement about her over the loud speaker.
“American Airlines treated her like a celebrity,” Holly said. “It was just a perfect way to start off the weekend.”
During their time at the aquarium, Lark met Winter and was able to interact and play with another dolphin, Hope. One of the trainers taught her the different hand gestures, and Lark was able to go onto the platform and give Hope different commands.
“Seeing Lark’s reaction to all of it was tearful to me,” Holly said. “When you have a child with a disability, it means so much to watch them have pure joy. It was a really joyous moment.”
But meeting the dolphins was just one small part of an amazing trip for Lark.
“It was great for the four of us to get away and have a week with no doctor appointments or medical bills,” Holly said. “To be able to have a family vacation like that was awesome.”
Lark’s family also visited nearby theme park, Busch Gardens, where brother Marshall went on a rollercoaster for the first time.
“Marshall is such an amazing, supportive brother to Lark through all of her surgeries and medical procedures,” Holly said. “When we were done, he said to me, ‘Mom, that was the best day of my life.’ We all think about Lark and everything she goes through, but I think it takes a toll on all of us and he needed something magical too. It was such an important part of the trip.”
Lark now carries a little stuffed dolphin everywhere she goes and her mother sees the trip gave her a huge boost of confidence.
“One week after returning from her wish, Lark swam underwater for the first time, which is something she never dared to do before,” said Holly. “She used to be too scared because of her trachea problems but now she is brave, and swims underwater all the time, just like other kids… and Winter.”
“I’m so grateful to Make-A-Wish Arizona. Everything - the hotel, the airline, rental cars, just everyone that went out of their way to make the entire experience so special,” Holly said.