Seven-year-old Henry is extremely optimistic, happy-go-lucky, and bubbly. Which is fortunate, because for a long time, he had to stay calm or risk severe injury to his heart.
Henry was born with Williams syndrome, a genetic condition that contributes to his outgoing personality, but unfortunately also contributes to a wide range of health concerns.
Henry received his diagnosis at six months old, when doctors discovered a heart murmur that prompted them to look deeper. “In hindsight, the cardiologist probably took one look at him and recognized the fact that he had Williams syndrome,” says his mother, Natalia, “because there are defining characteristics.”
Williams syndrome presents itself differently in each child, but common problems are development delays, cardiovascular disease, low birth weight, and sensitive hearing.
Unfortunately, Henry’s heart condition is on the more serious side. “We were told pretty quickly surgery was inevitable, it was just a matter of when,” explains Natalia. They would need to wait until Henry was strong enough to survive an invasive surgery and a long, slow recovery process.
Until then, Henry was required to live cautiously. His heart was so fragile that his parents needed to keep him calm at all costs. “It’s not often that you hear that if you let your child cry, he could very well have a heart attack,” says, Natalia. “That was just the way of our life.”
It was a very long wait for everybody involved,” she adds. “It was a realization for us that Henry was very special, but he has special needs that need to be addressed and taken care of.”
Thankfully, when Henry was three years old, he received the go-ahead for his heart surgery. All told, he required 26 lung artery patches, as well as patches on his aorta and coronary artery.
While recovery was slow, Natalia says that the surgery represented a pivotal moment in Henry’s development. “It was such a turning point in his ability to develop,” she explains. “He was suddenly able to run and play like the other kids.”
Since then, Henry’s health has recovered in leaps and bounds. “It has been quite the journey, but luckily he is doing really well and, developmentally, doing exceptionally well,” says Natalia. At school, he is thriving, thanks to a strong team of educators. “They have been able to lift him up and enable him to be successful,” says Natalia.
Natalia first learned about Make-A-Wish through the Williams syndrome community, where she has become close with other parents who are facing a similar struggle. Within this community, Make-A-Wish is well-known as an important piece of the healing process. “When you are dealing with a kid who has a potentially terminal illness or severe special needs, you begin to rely on the things that can help lighten the mood,” Natalia explains. “Things that can kind of take your mind away from reality.”
The family had long considered adopting a “helper dog” for Henry but struggled to find the right fit for his particular needs. “It was really difficult for us to navigate those waters on our own,” explains Natalia, “having full-time jobs and being caretakers to Henry. It was not exactly the top of our priorities, although it was an important thing that we wanted to do for him.”
When Henry wished for an emotional support puppy, Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area was able to step in and find the perfect dog for Henry and his family. In June, Henry met Zoe, a golden retriever puppy with a joyous, energetic personality to match his own, who was delivered via contactless delivery. The two were quick to play and get to know each other. “She was the automatic best friend he had wished for,” Natalia says.
The two are now slowly but surely getting comfortable with each other. Because of his sensitive hearing, Zoe’s barking, while normal for a puppy her age, can be distressing to Henry. But despite some rocky moments, their bond is growing every day.
“The greatest part about this is it really helped Henry establish his confidence and his independence,” says Natalia. While Henry used to cling by his parents most of the day, lately he’s been taking more time to himself.
“Williams syndrome is called the ‘cocktail party syndrome’, where no stranger is a stranger—everybody is your best friend,” explains Natalia. “I think having Zoe really helped Henry kind of draw the line of what he wants.”
Recently, Henry has been asking for Zoe in times of distress. After a recent illegal firework show drove Henry to a meltdown, he called for Zoe to cuddle with him and help him calm down. “That was the turning point in their relationship,” says Natalia. “They really bonded.”
Natalia is sure that their bond will continue to strengthen as the days and months pass, and that Zoe will be a strong emotional support for Henry for years to come. “Make-A-Wish is a gift to all parties involved,” she says.
Henry’s wish was generously adopted by Stephens Creek Subaru. Our Adopt-A-Wish program offers a unique opportunity to make an immediate, direct and substantial impact on the life of a child by underwriting the average cost of a wish.
In a time of so much uncertainty, your support is essential. Although more than 5,000 wishes nationwide are currently on hold, we are still able to safely grant wishes like Henry’s. Your contribution means we will be ready to grant more children their wish when they need it the most, bringing them the hope and strength they need to battle their illness. Donate today.