A local girl recently was surprised with a trip to Walt Disney World to see a number of princesses, courtesy of Make-a-Wish Foundation.
Brianna ("Bre") Cordell of Curry, the daughter of Brian and Alisha Cordell, not only visited the Disney resort, but also went to Universal Resort. She turned 5 on Nov. 15, during the week-long trip. The Cordells and their 17-year-old son, Logan, joined Bre on the trip.
"She was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) on Sept. 2, 2016," Mrs. Cordell said. It is the most common childhood cancer, according to various sources, appearing in the blood and bone marrow and affecting white blood cells.
Mrs. Cordell said three months after her daughter's treatment started, the family got a call from Make-A-Wish Alabama in Birmingham saying that she had been approved for a wish.
When Bre was asked where she would want to go, she said she wanted to see the princesses at Walt Disney World. A reveal party was held on Nov. 6 at Warehouse 316, with one of the waitresses dressing up as Elsa from the Disney film "Frozen" to greet her at the door. The family's Make-a-Wish coordinator, Sandi Moore then told Bre she was going to Walt Disney World.
"We actually waited (on making the trip) until she was through with treatment to fulfill that wish, so we would not have to worry about chemo or any of that while we were gone, and so she would feel better," she said. The original plan was to go in mid-October, but Moore, suggested waiting until Bre's birthday week.
She said the family stayed at Give Kids The World Village (gktw.org), a nonprofit 84-acre resort in Kissimmee, Florida, designed for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. The resort was created by a Holocaust survivor who treated sick children to trips, and who was distressed when two children died before a trip because hotel rooms were booked up.
The facility provides accommodations, meals and access to tickets for area attractions like Disney and Universal. (Representatives from those parks serve on the governing and advisory boards for the resort.)
Children ages 3-18 who have been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness by a licensed physician and have been sponsored by one of 250 wish-granting organizations may visit. The wish granting group helps provide transportation; the resort provides rental cars for the families.
A total of 7,000 families visit the facility each year.
"We spent two days at Universal Studios and then we spent three days at Disney," Mrs. Cordell said. As for accommodations, five days were spent at Give Kids the World, while the family elected to spend an extra couple of days in an Orlando hotel.
Mrs. Cordell said she was thankful to both Walt Disney World and Universal.
"Both parks treated her like royalty. She didn't have to wait for anything. When we walked up they saw her badge, and they took her to the front of the line for everything," she said.
Bre got to see her share of princesses and characters at the Disney parks, including some from Disney television shows.
"She got to see Cinderella, Snow White, Elena (of Avalor) - which was awesome, because she was playing hide-and-seek. I think that was her favorite," she said. "She had breakfast with Sophia, Vampirina, Doc McStuffins and Goofy."
But the favorite attraction was the roller coasters.
"If she was tall enough to ride them, she rode them," she said. "I think her favorite was Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios," a ride in the new Toy Story area of the park. "She rode it 10 times. She would get off and say, 'I want to ride again.'"
She pointed out that Bre and her have been home for the past 2 1/2 years of treatment. "That was her first trip to an amusement park," she said.
Best of all, Bre was in good physical shape for the trip.
"From the time she woke up to the time she went to bed, she was non-stop," Mrs. Cordell said. "To look at her, you wouldn't think she has been through what she has been through the past 2 1/2 years."
Starting her treatments a few days after diagnosis, she was in remission on Day 33. In the first phase, doctors pointed out a 96 percent cure rate, and she has done well - although dealing with the treatments was brutal and long.
"Everything we went through - it was hard. It was horrible, some days to watch her not to even be able to get out of bed," she said. "But now she is full force, 90 to nothing.
"With the ALL, it is in the bone marrow, so it can come back. That is why they do treatment. For girls, it is two to 2 1/2 years, and for boys, it is three to 3 1/2 years."
She noted that during the trip, the family got three meals and snacks at Give Kids the World, and it even had an ice cream parlor.
"Anything you can think of they have there - a swimming pool, an arcade, a putt-putt, a train. It was an awesome experience," she said. "I can't say enough about Give Kids the World. Everybody says, 'With Make-a-Wish, you can go to Disney anytime, but we would not have had the experience we had with Give Kids the World and Make-a-Wish. She was treated like a true princess."
On her actual birthday, Make-a-Wish scheduled an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, which helps to dress up children ages 3 to 12 as a princesses and knights. She was dressed as Cinderella for her birthday "from head to toe," she said.
Also, Make-a-Wish was "awesome. They took care of everything for us," Mrs. Cordell said, including arrangements for the flights and for Give Kids the World. Bre even got to chose the color rental car she wanted, which tickled her.
She said Bre still talks about the trip and thought it was an awesome experience.
"We are thankful for the Make-a-Wish organization, and we want to thank Warehouse 319 for hosting us and Give Kids the World, and, of course, Disney and Universal," she said.
Make-A-Wish Alabama noted it grants wishes in all 67 counties of the state and has granted more than 700 wishes since its inception as an independent 501(c)(3) in September 2012. Officials noted the chapter needs needs more volunteers in the area to help grant more wishes.
To learn more about Make-A-Wish Alabama, visit their website at alabama.wish.org or call them at (205) 254-9474. One may also follow them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.