Just before her 9th birthday, Anika was diagnosed with a brain tumor. What followed was a challenging six months of surgery, recovery, chemotherapy, and radiation, with much of her time spent at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford.
Halfway through her chemotherapy treatment, Anika’s family received some incredible news – the part of her tumor that was left behind during surgery was completely gone! However, because Anika lost her pituitary gland during surgery, they also learned that she would require critical hormone replacement therapy for the rest of her life.
When a social worker at Lucile Packard initially referred Anika for a wish, the family hesitated – with her cancer in remission, Anika had completed her treatment plan and was headed back to school. Anika’s mom, Gayatri, thought “I don’t know, maybe there are other kids who need a wish more than Anika.”
But ultimately, they decided to continue with the wish process. “Physically, she’s recovered, but emotionally I think that there are still scars,” Gayatri explains.
Anika is still required to take many medications. “I think that part depresses her,” says Gayatri. “She’s the only kid that takes so much medicine; she always questions that. I think that Make-A-Wish gave her something positive to associate with her illness.”
Anika has always been an animal lover, and although she has two rescue dogs at home, she often stops in at a local shelter to meet the dogs up for adoption, play with them, and show them some love. “It’s instinctive for her, the love for animals,” says Gayatri. “She always feels for these rescues that have been abandoned and don’t have a home – she wants to give them a home.”
It came as no surprise when Anika announced that her wish was to be a veterinarian. However, many surprises were in store for her on the big day, which was generously hosted by the Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter (FAAS).
Upon arrival, the family was greeted by Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, who presented Anika with a proclamation officially declaring July 2, 2019 as Anika Day.
The FAAS staff were incredibly kind, first offering a tour of the facility and then setting out a delicious lunch, generously provided by Alameda’s Tomatina restaurant, for Anika to enjoy with her parents, grandmother, brother and best friend. Anika’s mother and grandmother were touched to receive two beautiful orchid plants, and the kids were treated to lots of goodies and cupcakes.
Next, Anika had the chance to work with FAAS’s Medical Director Dr. Marie-Anne Woolley, and spent several hours treating cats and dogs and learning all about how to work with animals. For Anika, the experience really reinforced what she wants to do when she grows up – now she’s certain that she wants to become a veterinarian.
Dr. Marie-Anne Woolley says she was thrilled to have Anika on site to learn about veterinary medicine. "When I heard that Anika's wish was to shadow me, a veterinarian, I was honored and really excited,” she says. “That day, I felt like we had a superstar visiting!”
“Anika’s selflessness was an inspiration,” says FAAS' Executive Director John L. Lipp. “Welcoming Anika and her family and seeing the smile on her face as she worked alongside our veterinary medical team was the highlight of my summer.”
Finally, Anika had the chance to assist the shelter with a puppy adoption, something she had requested to take part in if possible. Happily, the couple adopting the dog were United Airlines pilot Bruce H. Jewett, and his wife Michelle V. Jewett, a United flight attendant. They were already quite familiar with Make-A-Wish, as United has partnered with Make-A-Wish on MileagePlus, a program that allows customers to donate airmiles, which in turn helps the organization to grant more travel wishes.
Bruce and Michelle arrived at the shelter ready to welcome a new rescue dog into their life, and say they feel very fortunate to be part of Anika’s wish day. “What an amazing, brave little girl, whose wish was to help other animals and people – not necessarily herself,” says Bruce. Anika was thrilled to help Dr. Woolley examine the dog and introduce Bruce and Michelle to their new family member, Rocket.
Overall, Anika’s family was blown away by the wish granting experience. “We felt like every little detail she had written in her wish – they kind of made it happen,” says Gayatri. She believes the wish had a huge impact on Anika’s mental well-being and her ability to move forward in life. “It was a really special day and I don’t think she will ever forget it.”
Stories like this could not happen without the support of the Make-A-Wish community. We rely on wish referrals from caring individuals like you to help us reach more kids with critical illnesses every year.
To read more about our referral process, click here.
For more information about our nonprofit partner in Anika’s wish, FAAS, please visit AlamedaAnimalShelter.org.
John L. Lipp, Executive Director, Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter