Caila may have only half of a functioning heart, but Caila herself is all heart. “She’s one of the sweetest kids,” says her mom, Natasha. “She just wants other people to be happy.”
Born with a cardiac condition, a congenital defect requiring multiple surgeries and a changing array of medications, Caila has developed a quiet strength and empathy that belies her 17 years. On a recent trip to get blood labs drawn, Natasha became impatient when Caila didn’t return for what felt like a long time. “It turns out there was another kid there also getting labs drawn, and she was upset and crying and afraid,” Natasha says. “So Caila stood with her to help her get through it. With everything she’s been through, she wants to help others.”
The oldest of four children, Caila often seems like any other high school junior. She sings in the choir, plans for college, loves to dance. But Caila’s condition sets her apart in ways that are often unseen but deeply felt. “It’s hard for her because people don’t understand,” says Natasha. “They don’t realize that this is a constant, daily burden for her, the frequent doctor visits, the tiredness. There’s a burden on her that people can’t see, and it’s not going to go away.”
In the summer of her 16th year, Caila’s health deteriorated, sending her usual good spirits into a slump. Natasha, a respiratory clinical specialist at Children’s Hospital, began talking with staff there about Make-A-Wish. “I work in the same office with a couple of social workers,” she says, “and we would discuss what Caila was going through. One day they brought up Make-A-Wish and asked me why I didn’t pursue that for her. It had never occurred to me before.” According to Natasha, the timing couldn’t have been better.
When asked what her wish would be, Caila didn’t hesitate: she wanted to swim with dolphins. When the approval for her wish came through, it took time to sink in. “When it finally became real, she was beside herself,” says her mom.
In autumn of 2017, after months of excited planning, the family flew to Atlantis and Caila’s wish to swim with dolphins came true.
“From start to finish, everyone made Caila feel special,” says her mom. Being different can be challenging for any child. But sometimes it’s through those very differences that good things happen. “The best thing about the Make-A-Wish experience,” says Natasha, “it allowed her to embrace being special in a really great way. It allowed all of us to celebrate our strength and resilience as a family. It was a great example that Caila isn’t just living with complex chronic illness, she is really living life to its fullest. I really can’t say enough about what a wonderful experience this was for our family.”