Olesia’s wish

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Special to The Aurora

If children had bucket lists, swimming with dolphins would likely be high on many of their things to do and see lists.

Seven-year-old Olesia Canning of Labrador City took her list one step further. While swimming with dolphins would be exciting, Olesia longed to train the friendly marine mammals to do tricks.

Thanks to the Children’s Wish Foundation (CWF), Olesia got to do just that recently when she and her family spent an entire day at the Dolphin Research Centre in Marathon, Florida.

“I was swimming on the dolphins’ backs and I taught them to do jumps and to sing,” Olesia said during a recent telephone chat.

Natasha Canning says her daughter had “the best day of her life” at the centre.

It’s a trip the family won’t soon forget, she says.

Olesia’s 13-year-old brother Colden and their parents Natasha and Chad Canning spent April 22-30 in Florida thanks to the CWF.

The foundation grants wishes to children between the ages of three and 17 who have been diagnosed with a life threatening illness.

During their day at the dolphin Research Centre, Olesia and her family were introduced to all of the 22 dolphins.

Olesia worked closely with six of the dolphins and spent time shadowing a trainer and participating in the training activities such as observing the dolphins, teaching them commands and tricks.  

She got to see how their food is prepared and how the trainers take care of the dolphins, her mother says.

“She even got to spend some time with the new baby dolphin ‘Reece’ who was born in December and, at the end of the day, she had a chance to meet the three sea lions,” Natasha says.

One dolphin named Jax used his mouth to paint a picture on a T-shirt that Olesia got to take home.

Olesia also shook hands/fins with a dolphin named Tursi and swam with several other dolphins. She completed her training and trick sessions with Santini and Aleta.  

By the time the training was over she was sending commands for the dolphins to jump up in the water.

“Olesia has always wanted to touch and train a dolphin. And the Dolphin Research Centre was just the place to do it. If you ever have a child who wants to do anything with dolphins this is the place to go,” Natasha says.

The family also visited the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida in the heart of the Florida Keys.

The rescue, rehab and release hospital has successfully treated and released over 1,000 sea turtles since it opened its doors in 1986.

Olesia met all 32 turtle patients at the hospital and leaned about their injuries.

Spending time with the turtles was a lot of fun, she says.

“There was a turtle in a beat up shell. The doctors were making him all better. Then they’ll put them back in the salty water. And when you see a turtle that looks hurt you just call the hospital and they’ll come get it,” Olesia explains.

While it was Olesia’s wish, Natasha says CWF ensures that the entire family is involved in all activities.

Colden, who is a paper carrier for the Aurora, says his favorite part of the trip was being in the water, interacting with the dolphins in their own environment and getting to know their personalities.

“You spent so much time with them that you each had one that made an impression upon you,” he said.

Colden said he connected with Jax – the little dolphin who was attacked by a shark when he was a year old.  

Olesia took to baby Reece and “the big guy" Rainbow.

Heart conditions qualify both children for wishes

Olesia and Colden have a hereditary heart condition called long QT syndrome. The disorder is caused by abnormalities in the heart’s electrical recharging system that can happen to otherwise healthy people.

Both Olesia and Colden’s disorders are well controlled with medication.

Colden has also been approved for a wish but hasn’t yet decided what he wants to do.

Natasha says having your child approved for a wish, brings with it mixed emotions.

“When you’re told your child qualifies, even though you know it’s there, you don’t like to think of them with life threatening illnesses.”

Natasha says her daughter’s wish went well beyond the family’s expectations. The staff and volunteers at the Dolphin Research Centre and The Turtle Hospital were superb, she says.

“The trip was completely flawless. Amy (Penney) was always there to answer our questions when we were planning the trip,” Natasha says of wish coordinator for this province.

 “And Edie (Newton) was available 24-7 during our trip if we had a question about anything,” she says of the foundation’s chapter director for Newfoundland and Labrador.

The CWF of Canada has been granting wishes to qualifying children and youth for over a quarter of a century. During that time over 19,000 wishes have been granted which is more than any other wish-granting agency in the country.

“Our children got so much out of this trip. It was such an educational experience for them; a lifetime experience. Everything they did was just amazing,” Natasha says.

Chad says the trip was much more than he could ever have expected.

“It was just incredible how Children’s Wish organized the entire trip for us. It was a fantastic experience for our children and for us as well,” he said.

danette@nl.rogers.com

Organizations: Newfoundland and Labrador.The CWF, Dolphin Research Centre, Wish Foundation Dolphin Research Centre and The Turtle Hospital

Geographic location: Florida Keys, Labrador, Canada

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