Heather, 11, has always loved animals. Birds, bats and bugs – it didn’t matter. So her parents knew something was seriously wrong during a trip to the zoo three years ago. Heather didn’t want to walk around to see the animals because it hurt too much. After just 30 minutes, she sat down in the food court and asked to go home to take a nap.
A few months later, Heather spiked a 104-degree fever and the pediatrician ran a variety of tests, which showed that she had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Heather underwent chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and countless shots in the months that followed. When Heather was told about being able to choose a wish, she never hesitated. Instead of focusing on doctor visits and treatments, she could look forward to her heartfelt wish coming true. Heather wanted to be a zookeeper.
“We tried to help her explore other ideas – just to make sure – but she was steadfast,” Heather’s dad, Jody, said. “She explored where to find the best zoos in the world. It wasn’t hard to find the San Diego Zoo on the Internet. Heather said she wanted to go there and learn how to be a zookeeper from some of the best zookeepers in the world.”
Heather asked to see three kinds of animals – eagles, bugs and big cats. As Heather and her family were treated to a VIP tour at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, she met everything from a prairie dog to a small porcupine-like creature called an echidna to a small anteater called a tamandua. Under the supervision of the zookeeper, she spent one-on-one time with a golden eagle, two lions and three jaguars. The zookeepers also brought out several different exotic insects to touch.
As she spent her day with the zookeepers, Heather learned more about what it will take for her to become a zookeeper herself one day. She now knows the importance of good grades, attending college and volunteering at animal shelters, zoos and veterinarian offices.
“She loved gazing [at] the eyes of that 440-pound male lion with a mane the size of Heather’s entire body,” Jody said. “This trip, this wonderful trip-of-a-lifetime helped my daughter – actually helped my whole family – to put a period at the end of the cancer sentence. Thank you so much to the staff, the volunteers and the donors for blessing my daughter with this life-changing opportunity.”
The trip to go to the San Diego Zoo along with the opportunity to be a zookeeper for the day gave Heather so much to look forward to leading up to the wish. And now Heather has wonderful memories from an experience she will never forget.
“When I got cancer, I felt unlucky,” Heather said. “I was scared that I was going to die. Make-A-Wish gave me something to look forward to. It was the most fun I ever had.”