Everyone has a dream, and for seven-year-old open-heart surgery survivor Everett Loehr, that dream centered around a beach vacation and seeing dolphins up-close.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, that dream came true earlier this month when Everett, his brother Landon, and their parents Andy and Mandy Loehr, headed south to Destin, Fla., for a week of fun in the sun.
It all started last August when cardiologist Dr. Jessica Bowman, who’s been caring for Everett since he was quite young, nominated him—something she regularly does once a child is old enough to remember the experience. But when Mandy saw her phone light up with a random call from an unknown New Jersey number about a month later, she let it go to voicemail.
That’s how she found out the foundation wanted to grant Everett’s wish.
“After the initial call, we received a wish packet in the mail so Everett could start thinking of ideas,” Mandy said. “And then early this year, they got back in touch.”
This led to a Zoom call on Valentine’s Day with their wish coordinator, a woman named Kristen Kern from the New Jersey office. As Kern questioned Everett, what he wanted most quickly rose to the top of the list: To go to the beach for the first time and see the dolphins.
The Loehrs had heard Destin was a great option and not as far to drive as many Florida destinations, so they began planning.
Make-A-Wish took care of everything for this Bellefontaine family, from providing a rental car and hotel room to planning their dolphin encounter and a dolphin cruise. They also provided a spending card to cover all of their expenses. But, in the end, Everett was mostly drawn to the ocean.
“He said he wanted to build sandcastles, but ended up spending more time in the water,” said Mandy, a staff writer for the Bellefontaine Examiner. “Andy called him a glutton for punishment because of the way the water would whip him around, but he still wouldn’t leave, even to break for a snack. We could barely pull him out.”
Part of the Florida getaway included a trip to Gulf World in Panama City to participate in the dolphin encounter. A dolphin trainer guided the participants through motions to make the dolphins dance and chomping motions with their mouths like an alligator. It ended with a hug and a kiss on the cheek.
“I liked it because they’re so cute,” the incoming Bellefontaine Elementary second-grader said of the aquatic mammal.
For Everett, it was a memorable trip. “I don’t have a favorite part,” he said. “The whole thing was fun.”
Though Everett is doing better now, he suffered serious complications after his surgery in 2017 at the age of 3, including a cardiac arrest and a stroke, and spent 16 days in the cardiac Intensive Care Unit of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
The procedure, called a myectomy, was needed alleviate an outflow tract obstruction in his heart caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an inherited condition that causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick.