For most teenagers, life revolves around exciting elements – an extracurricular sports team, finding the perfect college, or acing biology class. But for Isabelle, life revolved around managing her illness. At age fifteen, Isabelle found out she had Crohn’s disease, an incurable illness that affects the gastrointestinal tract, as well as an autoimmune liver disease. The diagnosis required a change in lifestyle for Isabelle, from handling medication and treatments to revamping her diet and managing stress. Sometimes a feeding tube was necessary, which Isabelle described as difficult and socially isolating. Because of her condition, she also had to miss a lot of school, and had a hard time keeping up with her friends. So while Isabelle had many hobbies of her own – softball, soccer, and art – those were pushed aside, and Crohn’s disease became the biggest focus of her life.
To learn more about coping with Crohn’s, Isabelle attended a camp specifically for kids diagnosed with the intestinal disease. During her time there, she met several kids who had received a wish from Make-A-Wish, and an interest sparked within her. While the paperwork was being processed and Isabelle worked to keep herself healthy, she began researching different places that had the potential for the perfect wish. She was an adventurer, and Make-A-Wish presented the opportunity for her most memorable adventure yet. After much inquiry and deliberation, one place stood out above the rest: Iceland. It was unique, featured tremendous outdoor activities, and had the perfect weather to keep her cool and healthy.
Isabelle’s wish had to be put on hold until she improved medically, but knowing a wish was waiting at the other side of finish line helped her cope with the lifestyle changes. In June 2014, Isabelle was finally in a good place, and ready for her journey to Iceland. Make-A-Wish organized a send-off dinner for Isabelle and her family at Maggiano’s Italian Restaurant, where all the travel plans were revealed. Isabelle tells us how having her family there was an important part of her wish. “I loved how much Make-A-Wish went out of their way to include my sister and parents and make sure we had everything we needed for the trip.”
The family of four boarded their flight and felt the stress of everyday life melt away. “It was so nice how everything was planned,” Isabelle said, revealing how stress-free the entire experience was. The family was able to balance a busy schedule of sightseeing and exploring with the ability to relax and simply enjoy the little moments. They ventured into caves under volcanic rock, visited the Blue Lagoon, took in the breathtaking mountainside, and enjoyed shopping and eating downtown.
The trip gave Isabelle a new perspective on her life, even with the lifestyle changes that Crohn’s disease required. “So many negative things come out of illness, but this was so positive,” Isabelle said. “It made me feel more positive about my illness, and gave me hope that other positive things can come out of it, too. It made me feel more empowered, and more in control of my life. Illness takes away so much control, but this trip allowed me to choose and gain that control back.” With this outlook and several years of experience with Crohn’s under her belt, Isabelle has learned how to manage her disease, and says she is a lot better medically than she was before her wish. She hopes to become a doctor someday to lend a hand in the medical field.
Isabelle will always be grateful for the trip, and insight, that Make-A-Wish gave her. “I think a lot of people see Make-A-Wish as a last wish,” Isabelle explained. “Now, I see it not as a last wish, but as an experience of positivity and happiness after going through childhood illness.” Undeniably, Iceland was a high point for Isabelle and her family, not just as a weeklong vacation or a book of memories, but as evidence of the power of positivity and compassion. “It’s amazing that there are enough people out there that want to help kids like me,” Isabelle said. “Because it makes a big difference. It made this negative a positive.”