Fearlessness has always been inside of Giancarlo, and his wish experience helped unleash it.
14-year-old Gianni, as his friends and family call him, was born with a heart condition that caused him to “live in a bubble” according to his mom, Sandy.
“Gianni has been through three or four heart surgeries and multiple hospitalizations,” Sandy said. “He was always scared that something was going to happen to him and he would never get out of his comfort zone.”
But everything changed when Gianni’s family received a call from Make-A-Wish after being connected by a family friend.
“It was the best New Year’s ever, we just couldn’t explain it,” Sandy recalled. “I was crying and we were so happy. Gianni did not really understand much but he then got an idea and he was just beside himself.”
Gianni loves the calmness of water so his idea was to go to Hawaii to swim with dolphins and visit the Disney Aulani resort.
As soon as he learned this idea could become a reality, it was crunch time. He started to leave his comfort zone behind to prepare for the adventure ahead. He began learning how to swim and even started going to the gym.
“He learned how to swim after two years of not being able to do much,” Sandy said. “Because of the heart surgeries his coordination was off so he had to work very hard with his therapist and even though it was super hard for him, he practiced for months to be able to swim and he accomplished his goal and that motivated him.”
While he knew that his wish could come true, he didn’t know when. His family surprised him by announcing it on his birthday.
“We had his birthday party the day before we were going and he had no idea,” Sandy said. “And then at his birthday dinner, his wish granter was there and announced it at the restaurant. Everyone at the restaurant was clapping for him and a mariachi band was playing for him.”
Every part of the experience from being picked up by a limo and watching cartoons inside to getting to Hawaii and being able to eat breakfast with his favorite Disney characters felt magical. Gianni also got to surf, go to a Luau, dance on stage with hula girls, and swim with turtles. His mom says the best part was seeing him come out of his shell when it came time to swim with the dolphins, the activity he had been consistently preparing for and looked forward to most of all.
“The way it works is that everyone is in line waiting and the little dolphin comes up and the person is supposed the grab the fin of the dolphin and the dolphin pulls them while they swim on its belly,” she said. “Everyone had gone and then it was Gianni’s turn and my poor Gianni, because he doesn’t have a lot of strength, he was struggling to jump onto the dolphin and he couldn’t latch on.”
Sandy said that Gianni tried to jump on the dolphin around eight times and while he continued to struggle everyone in the crowd cheered him on.
“When he finally did it and was able to latch on by himself and swim with the dolphin, I was crying and everyone was teary and clapping for him,” Sandy said. “That was such a nice moment for him because he felt that he did it.”
Gianni took the same fearlessness and confidence with him when he went parasailing.
“To see him so happy, smiling, and proud of himself that was one of the best moments,” Sandy said. “And then the parasailing too, he was really scared but he said ‘I want to do it mommy, I can do it mommy.’”
Sandy said the trip completely changed Gianni. Being able to conquer his goals with his entire family, his mom, step-dad, brother, and dad, watching had a great impact on his confidence. He now seeks out opportunities to do the things he was too scared to do before.
“He has a dolphin key chain and he carries it with him and tells everyone about his dolphin in Hawaii,” Sandy said. “He always talks about what he did and now he wants to continue doing sports, doesn’t get scared to dance, he has so much confidence and he’s not scared to try anything anymore.”
From their wish experience, Sandy has seen first-hand the life-changing impact receiving a wish can have on a child.
“The experience really, truly changed my son’s life,” she said. “He’s no longer living in a bubble and now he’s planning his next vacation.”
Sandy said the wish went far beyond anything they could’ve expected.
“We’re really grateful and it really does make such a difference in a child’s life, physically, emotionally, on all levels,” Sandy said. “It really helped his mind, body, and soul.”