Children’s Wish Foundation International honors the creativity and love in every wish. We’ve got thirty years of amazing stories to share with you through a new blog feature “Classic Wishes“. Our first beautiful wish below was featured in Chicken Soup for the Parent’s Soul. The book, originally published on September 14, 2000, spent twelve weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller List, three of those in the top ten.
Lee Katherine had a bright future ahead of her. At the age of fifteen, she had charted her path in life and was determined to become a marine biologist.
She had always felt a close connection to the sea, and told her parents, Robert and Ruth, that her love of marine life would help thousands of animals one day. In her back pocket she carried a book written by her hero, Jacques Cousteau, and the tattered pages only further illustrated her conviction to become a famous marine biologist.
It was during this time that Robert and Ruth were dealt the devastating blow of having their daughter diagnoses with a terminal illness. After doctors delivered the news that she had cancer of the nasal cavity, all of their dreams for Lee Katherine came crashing down. Although her parents did everything they could to help her fight her illness, including seeing her through a rigorous round of chemotherapy, Lee Katherine’s medical team soon realized she was losing her battle.
They told Robert and Ruth to take her home and keep her comfortable; there was nothing else they could do.
As they left the doctor’s office that day, Robert and Ruth were in a state of shock; they couldn’t believe that their beloved daughter was going to lose her battle. Still reeling from the sting of what they had just learned, they were unprepared for what Lee Katherine told them next.
Leaving the office, she turned to her mother and said, “Mom, there is one thing I want to do before I die. I want to swim with dolphins.”
Shocked, Ruth nodded, but was shattered inside, believing that she had nowhere to turn for help. Despair turned to desperation as she struggled with the realization that she would not be able to fulfill her daughter’s last request. It was only a few days later when Ruth ran into a friend at the supermarket, who happened to be a volunteer in this foundation. The friend asked about Lee Katherine and Ruth repeated her daughter’s wish, saying, “It’s the only thing she wants to do and I don’t know how to do it.” Her friend gave her the number for Children’s Wish Foundation International.
Ruth called the foundation’s headquarters and explained Lee Katherine’s situation. She told the foundation that her daughter would not live to see her dream of becoming a marine biologist come to fruition, but that she clung to the hope that she would experience the magic of swimming with the beautiful dolphins that had always captivated her.
That very day, Children’s Wish sent an overnight package containing all of the paperwork the family needed to sign along with instructions for Ruth to overnight the signed papers back. Calls were placed to Lee Katherine’s medical team immediately to inquire about any special provisions that should be made for a child in her condition. These doctors knew that Lee Katherine could pass away at almost any time, but with Lee Katherine’s determination to swim with dolphins so strong, they approved her for traveling and signed off on the medical forms. They also provided guidelines that needed to be followed carefully for the young girl’s comfort and safety.
Too frail to travel by air, the foundation rented a special RV to transport Lee Katherine from her home in North Carolina to the Florida Keys. To help alleviate the pain, doctors had her receiving round-the-clock morphine treatments through an IV, and it was necessary to equip the RV with padding to provide Lee Katherine comfort as she traveled.
It was obvious to all who saw Lee Katherine that her illness had taken its toll, and most of all to Ruth and Robert.
But as the RV drew closer and closer to the dolphin center, her entire spirit changed. Memories of her illness and thoughts of what lay ahead were replaced with a renewed excitement of finally having her wish fulfilled. Before she could enter the water, the IV administering the morphine had to be removed. There were concerns about how she would manage the pain but Lee Katherine was determined. Ruth placed a life vest over her daughter to keep her afloat, then stood by and watched as a team of volunteers carefully lowered Lee Katherine into the water, where two beautiful dolphins awaited her.
What happened next was a miracle to all who were present.
The two dolphins, Nat and Tursi, seemed to instinctively sense Lee Katherine’s fragile condition. They nudged her neck, gave her soft dolphin kisses, provided gentle piggyback rides, and delighted her with leaps over her head. Throughout the swim, despite her fragile appearance, it was hard to believe that she was sick at all. As the sun sparkled across the water, Ruth and Robert watched their terminally ill daughter beaming with happiness as her lifetime dream was fulfilled.
After her swim, Lee Katherine told her parents, “I’m not afraid to die anymore.”
She explained how she felt that communication with the dolphins was her “bridge to the other side” and she now felt totally peaceful. Miraculously, for Lee Katherine and her parents, she never needed a another drop of morphine. Just thirty-six hours after her swim, Lee Katherine passed away. In the midst of their enormous grief, Ruth and Robert felt their daughter had given them a priceless gift they never expected.
Through her courage, grace, and determination, Lee Katherine taught them that even in the most tragic circumstances and regardless of how short is the life that was lived, dreams can come true.
The images of her laughing and swimming with the dolphins remain forever etched in her parents’ hearts as a reminder of the gift of Lee Katherine to her family.
In order to fulfill their daughter’s final wish, Ruth and Robert returned her once again to the Florida Keys. There, they scattered her ashes amongst the same school of dolphins that had brought their daughter so much joy and peace. They had indeed been her “bridge to the other side”.
by Christy Chappelear Andrews