In February, five-year-old Gracie’s wish to meet lions and tigers came true when she met her favourite furry friends up close in Kent.
Not only was she able to see the animals in real life, but she touched their soft fur and was able to hand feed them too. For Gracie, as well as her parents and twin sister, Olivia, it was a special day filled to the brim with joy and excitement, a world away from their daily reality of pain, fear and anxiety.
Gracie’s mum, Emily, told us their story;
“Gracie was born profoundly deaf and has quadraplegic cerebral palsy, which means she has limited use of her arms and legs. As a result, Gracie relies on her dad and I to help with every aspect of her life.
"Since Gracie's diagnosis, life has become extremely challenging. We have had to adapt every single part of our life. Even simple tasks such as; going to the park, washing, feeding, playing, sleeping are now complex feats, and the list goes on.
Why we turned to Make-A-Wish
“Gracie also has a twin sister so the first couple of years when they were very young were even more difficult. As Gracie has got older, the emotional strain for both her and us as parents has increased.
"Having to tell your daughter she cannot do something because of her disability is very upsetting. As a family, we do as much as possible to ensure Gracie experiences childhood as she should. That’s why we turned to Make-A-Wish."
There was only ever One True Wish for Gracie
“For most children, going to Disneyland or meeting your favourite band would be a dream come true. Gracie, however, is obsessed with lions and tigers and pretty much anything big and furry! So when we found out Gracie was eligible to have a wish granted by Make-A-Wish, she was over the moon. From the start, we wanted to make sure this wish was all about Gracie, and naturally she wished to meet a lions and tigers!
An unforgettable reaction
“On the day of her wish, a limo arrived to collect us and Gracie was driven around like a movie star, which she loved! At the big cat sanctuary in Kent, we were extremely lucky to get a guided private tour where Gracie got up close with many different big cats.
"The second part of Gracie's wish was to attend Port Lympne Wild Animal Safari Park where we were hoping to feed a lion. What an experience this turned out to be!
"Our whole family was given the opportunity to hand feed three lions and Gracie even got to stroke one through the fence. We spoke with the lion keeper in depth about the lions and how they live. We spent around half an hour with the lions, with only a metal mesh fence between us all (the rest of us were petrified but Gracie only wanted to get closer).
"Gracie's reaction to this kind of interaction with lions is something that we will never forget. The experience felt special and personal to Gracie. It really was a wish come true to her.
“Gracie’s wish being granted was better than we ever anticipated. We never expected the opportunity to get so close to the lions. Gracie being able to feed the lions is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that we will be forever grateful for.
Our chance to escape
“This wish was a fantastic opportunity for our family to escape the daily appointments and challenges. We spent three magical days as a family without worrying what was in the diary. Make-A-Wish have given us memories that money could never buy, and those memories will last a lifetime. We are eternally grateful.
"They catered to every element of the entire trip and left nothing to worry about. Everything was covered, even money to go out for dinner which we rarely get an opportunity to do. Gracie was also given spending money which she chose to share with her twin sister, and Gracie was given extra money to sponsor a lion, something that we were not expecting and which means Gracie’s wish is still ongoing even now.”