GREENFIELD — Hailey Blevins admits she’s a bit of a dreamer, a wanter of adventures and all-consuming happiness. But for someone so young, the 17-year-old has faced mountains most will never have to climb.
A few months into her life, Hailey was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis, a hereditary respiratory disease that lines her lungs with thick mucus, making it difficult to breathe. The illness made medications, breathing treatments and doctors’ visits part of her daily routine.
But Hailey’s forged dreams while trapped behind hospital doors. All she wants to do is see the world, she said: the Eiffel Tower in Paris; the New York City skyline; the lush, green and rolling hills of Ireland; and the white sands of Bahamas’ beaches.
Recently, the Greenfield teen’s wish to travel to far-away lands was granted by the Make-A-Wish foundation, thanks to hundreds of Hoosiers who donated during Indianapolis radio station WZPL’s annual Request-a-Thon this holiday season.
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Hailey and her family will soon travel to Hawaii, where she’s hoping to explore a new culture, eat interesting foods and relax. Her twice-daily breathing treatments and handfuls of pills won’t get in her way; they never have.
Hailey might have Cystic Fibrosis, but the disease has never had Hailey — that’s the slogan she’s chosen to live by.
“I can do anything now,” Hailey said, explaining the lessons she’s learned while living with Cystic Fibrosis. “The word I hang onto is hope; I hope for the future. I want my message to be an inspiration to others to keep going. … Tomorrow will be better; you’ll get through it.”
And there’s been much to get through, said her mother, Angela Jenner of Greenfield.
When Hailey was 4 months old, she came down with a cold. The virus was severe enough to affect her breathing, and she was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children for tests, Jenner said.
Doctors put Hailey on a ventilator and did a routine test for Cystic Fibrosis, which came back positive, Jenner said.
“It was like a double-whammy; we had this really sick baby and then got that news,” she said. “Life kind of changed.”
Early on, Jenner could soothe Hailey’s coughing fits with daily pats on the back, similar to the way any mother would burp her baby. When Hailey turned 3, she started using a special vest that buzzes and vibrates to help break up mucus buildup in her lungs. She wears the vest for an hour every day, usually for 30 minutes first thing in the morning and right before bedtime, requiring her to get up a bit earlier and go to bed a bit later than some of peers, Hailey said.
For a few weeks each year, Hailey is booked into the hospital for what her mother calls a tune-up. The visits usually come at least once in the fall and once in the spring, when Hailey is feeling particularly tired, sore and has been coughing more often, and each visit lasts for about two weeks at a time, Jenner said.
Some years are worse than others, though, Hailey said. When she was in eighth grade, she missed about two months of school after being admitted to the hospital four times.
The hospital stays can be taxing, Hailey said; she’s often locked in a room on her own because CF kids can’t be around each other out of concern for passing infections, she said. So, she turns to books and crafts for entertainment.
It was during one of these hospital visits that a nurse approached Hailey about the Make-A-Wish foundation. The organization grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions in hopes of giving them life-changing experiences, as the foundation’s website puts it.
For 19 years, WZPL has organized a fundraiser to benefit the Indiana chapter of the Make-A-Wish foundation. About 78 Indiana children have been granted wishes thanks to the $624,000 raised over the years, according to the Make-A-Wish website.
Hailey visited the station during the 36-hour fundraiser this year to share her story on air to help garner donations.
The organization will foot the bill for Hailey’s mother, step-father and her two younger brothers to make the trip to Hawaii with her. They are hoping to have the vacation arranged in time for spring break.
Hearing Hailey’s wish had been granted brought a glimmer of brightness to illness marked by gloom, Angela Jenner said.
“It was nice to experience something in a positive with her CF,” she said. “She gets to experience a once-in-a-lifetime something because of this stupid, nasty illness; it makes it not so stupid, nasty. For once, something great has happened.”
The Make-A-Wish Foundation was started in the 1980s after two Arizona police officers meet and grant the wish of a 7-year-old terminal leukemia patient who wanted to spend the day with law enforcement.
The organization has grown to grant the wishes of thousands of 3- to 17-year-old kids across the country who are a life-threatening medical conditions.
The foundation relies on the child’s imagination to decide where they want to go, what the want to do or who the want to meet, and organizers try to make the wish come true.
“Because wishes make very sick kids feel better – and sometimes, when they feel better, they get better,” the organization’s website states.
The foundation seeks donations each year to help fund wish granting. For more information about the chapter encompassing Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, visit oki.wish.org.