No aspiring marine biologist would pass up the opportunity to visit and care for sea turtles in a rehabilitation center. Thanks to Make-A-Wish, 12-year-old Melanie Ochal from Oak Forest got that very opportunity when she and her family traveled to Australia.
When Melanie, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis in 2014 at age nine, learned she was eligible to have a wish granted by Make-A-Wish, she immediately told her parents she wanted to go somewhere other than Disney.
“We looked at the [Make-A-Wish] Facebook page and I told her, ‘See, a lot of the older kids choose to go other places,’” Melanie’s mom, Lisa, said.
Melanie eventually decided she wanted to visit Australia with her parents, Lisa and Bob, and her brother, Mathieu. On Dec. 28, her wish was granted, and she and her family flew across the world to Cairns, Australia for an unforgettable experience.
“We were pretty much spoiled and well taken care of during the whole flight,” Lisa said. “We got snacks from first class and everything."
While in Cairns, Melanie and her family stayed in ocean-front accommodations with stunning views of the mountains. Even though Melanie couldn’t go snorkeling because of her medical condition, she still got a special tour of the Great Barrier Reef in a glass-bottom boat and got to spend plenty of time on Australia’s beautiful coral beaches. She event went kayaking.
Perhaps the most special part of animal lover Melanie’s trip was her visit to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre on Fitzroy Island, where she got a behind-the-scenes tour and even helped take care of some of the center’s sea turtles. Lisa said this made Melanie feel very special.
“When she went back to school, she got to tell everyone about it,” Lisa said. “She knows it’s something no one else could’ve gotten to do.”
Lisa said the trip was full of “complete, total relaxation” and left the entire family in a lasting good mood. It provided a much-needed break for all of them and let Melanie focus on having fun in paradise rather than school or hospital visits.
“We felt relaxed and grateful the whole time,” Lisa said. “We were so glad to be there. The kids even got along the whole time.”