Though small for her age, seven-year-old Emma makes up for her stature with her feisty personality. This positivity has served her well as she endures treatments and visits to the doctor for a rare and slow-growing brain tumor, something she will have to monitor for the rest of her life.
At first, doctors were perplexed by Emma’s symptoms. Emma wasn’t growing, couldn’t eat, and was tired all the time. She also lost her peripheral vision and had digestion issues. For four years, doctors tested and treated Emma for various gastrointestinal disorders, until a full blood work-up showed very low growth hormone levels for a child her age. A trip to the endocrinologist and an MRI finally delivered a definitive diagnosis: a tumor at the base of Emma’s skull that was pressing up against her pituitary gland. The diagnosis began a whole new way of life for Emma and her family, something her mom never could have imagined.
“It’s a whole new way of learning how to live,” explains Emma’s mom, Kirsten. “You work things into your daily routine that you never would have imagined – medicine several times a day, doctor’s appointments, lab work, travel we have to do because some of her care cannot be done in Las Vegas. You just adapt. There’s no choice. You have to do the best for your child that you possibly can.”
Emma’s treatment included two brain surgeries and almost two months of proton beam radiation to shrink the tumor and relieve Emma’s symptoms. Though Emma will require monitoring the rest of her life, her tumor has regressed and most of her symptoms have disappeared.
During treatments, Emma did have a bright spot to look forward to. Referred by her school nurse, Emma qualified for a wish. And knowing Emma, this wish was going to be anything but ordinary. Inspired by a Western-style cooking contest TV show she watched one night during her treatment, Emma knew exactly what she wanted to do when she met with wish volunteers for the first time – Emma wished to go to a dude ranch.
On World Wish Day 2019, Emma and her family were invited to a special event at UFC Headquarters. Along with 11 other wish kids in waiting, Emma found out her wish was coming true in a special presentation by “Veteran Voice of the Octagon,” Bruce Buffer. The surprise reveal is something the entire family will always remember.
“We didn't know what to expect. We knew that something was going to happen, but it was a surprise to us as well. We didn't say anything to Emma,” said Kirsten. “I remember her reaction when they revealed her wish and the little dance that she did. That was so funny and then I cried because I heard all the people around us cheer. It was nice to have that sense of surprise for ourselves as well but it also became very real at that point and I did kind of lose it a little bit.”
Not long after the surprise reveal, Emma and her family were on their way to Utah’s Zion Mountain Ranch. On her wish, Emma got to do everything she had dreamed of and more! During the day she met all the animals on the ranch including bunnies and chickens, even riding a horse for the first time. Emma and family even got to experience true farm to table dining by collecting eggs from the hen house for breakfast and scouring the garden for salad ingredients for lunch.
For Kirsten, the wish trip was a turning point for her family, to focus on something outside of Emma’s medical treatment. “There just is something about the wish that all of that sort of gravitates around. I don't know why, but it just seems like that was a really big positive force in our lives. That's how I probably will always equate it.”
“Everybody was so nice. Everybody treated her not like a little kid, they treated her like an actual person, an individual. I can't say enough thanks to everybody who made this possible. To have it all come together and have it be just as she asked for has been one of the most gratifying experiences of our lives.”
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