As her turn arrived, while she clutched her new plush toy, the 4-year-old girl was carried over to the character she had been waiting to meet for the first time in her life: Mickey Mouse.
It’s an encounter not uncommon on the average trip to the Most Magical Place on Earth, as seeing Mickey is a staple of almost every child’s Disney vacation. But to understand what that moment – and others like it – truly meant to Akylah and her family, you would need to know everything else that came before it.
When Akylah was two years old, she would wake up in the middle of the night – sometimes around 3 or 4 a.m. – and complain of stomach pains and fevers that wouldn’t go away. So her mother took her to doctors who said Akylah was just a bit constipated and the problems would clear up soon. Akylah’s mother was relieved. But a few weeks later, around Easter Sunday, Akylah’s balance was off. So her mother took her to the emergency room.
Just a little tummy trouble, the doctors said.
Two months went by, and things began getting worse. Akylah lost a noticeable amount of weight, her balance was off and her eyes were droopy. The tipping point for Akylah’s mother was when her daughter stopped responding to her.
“Something’s wrong with my baby,” she said.
Akylah’s mom was right. After being tested, Akylah was diagnosed with brain cancer. She needed emergency surgery and her mother said it was like “the end of the world.”
She soon learned, though, just how strong her child is. Akylah, who also goes by “Ke-Ke,” is well on her road to recovery – her last four MRIs have shown positive results and her mom said she’s doing “excellent.”
Four months after the first surgery was when a social worker brought up Make-A-Wish to Akylah’s mother. She had never heard of us, and didn’t know exactly what to think at first. But as the planning for her daughter’s wish – a trip to Walt Disney World – progressed, she said she began to see how enjoyable of an experience it would be.
When Akylah was asked, “Who is going to Disney World?” she would raise her hand, smile and say, “MEEEE!” From that point on, whenever someone brought up Disney, she would raise her hand, smile, laugh and give the same response.
The real fun, though, began after the family landed in Orlando. They stayed at Give Kids the World, in a villa located right next to the pool – where all of them spent several hours each day. Akylah especially loved meeting Mayor Clayton and Ms. Merry, the characters who oversee the village, in addition to the ice cream she got to eat.
The family had a park hopper to visit all of Disney’s theme parks, and there was so much to do! One of the highlights was a sit-down lunch at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall in Epcot, where Akylah met several of the princesses – her favorite being Belle (one of the main reasons she wanted to go to Disney World).
While Akylah and her siblings had an amazing time, the real reward lasted so much longer.
“We basically almost completely lost it after the diagnosis,” Akylah’s mom said. “The trip brought a lot of life back into our family’s home. … It’s a wonderful feeling”
There is a song that plays at the Magic Kingdom, as the nightly display of fireworks brightens the sky behind Cinderella Castle. Part of it goes like this: “I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight. We’ll make a wish, and do as dreamers do. And all our wishes … will come true.”
We’re grateful that, after all of these years, Disney continues to live up to those lyrics – ensuring children like Akylah have trips full of fun, laughter and magic.