The sadness and beauty on the face of this little girl captured us immediately. She was living in an orphanage, high in the mountains of China. Her medical problems were complex, and her kidneys were failing.

We had adopted from China many times already. Our family was large and complicated. We knew we couldn’t “adopt them all” and had resigned ourselves to a role of adoption advocacy. But this little face stayed with us, and eventually we realized that this was our daughter.

Our return to America with our new daughter Jessica was difficult. Her life in the orphanage had been hard and she had experienced much trauma. Her medical problems were complicated – spinal problems had caused her kidneys to fail. While we were able to manage her kidneys for a time with good medical care, eventually it became clear that a kidney transplant would be needed sooner rather than later. On New Year’s Day we received a call that a well-matched kidney was available, and Jessica received her transplant.

Our transplant team told us that Jessica would be eligible for the Make-A-Wish® Iowa program. We were hesitant. We have a very large family, and most of our children have complex medical problems. Some with congenital heart disease, others with spina bifida, seizures, deafness and more. Many of our children would have been eligible for a “wish” but since we had good financial resources, we felt awkward about participating.

In discussing this with Jessica, her face lit up. She pondered, drew sketches and excitedly showed us her vision for her wish. She explained that she wanted something that all her new siblings could enjoy with her. Something that could allow them to play hard, even when it was cold outside. Something that she and her siblings, with mobility issues and seizures, could safely play in. Something that could be a hide-out, a fort, a place to read, a place up high and of course with a slide and monkey bars that you can reach if your legs don’t work. A special play place in her home where she and her special family could just be kids.

The Make-A-Wish team was fantastic. They looked at her drawings and heard her sweet rationale. They took her wish and transformed it into a perfect indoor playground for our family. The slide, monkey bars, high places, hideouts and bright colors – they put it all together to bring Jessica’s wish to reality.

The most amazing part for us was the process.  Jessica was so happy with her secret surprise for her siblings.  She just beamed from ear to ear all the time.  It is hard to explain what that does to a parent’s heart under normal circumstances, but with Jessica it was just unbelievable for us.   We had watched her come to our family emotionally shut down and barely able to smile and now 3 years later she was loving her family and filled with an overwhelming joy about doing something so special for her family.  She just bloomed through the process.  How do you put a price on that? 

Jessica and her siblings play on the playground daily.  They also spend time tucked away in the corners of it reading their books.   Some of them even try to hang upside down to read.   Mom and Dad can even be found sliding down the slide from time to time.    The laughter that comes from that room is music to our ears. 

This wish process was life changing for Jessica.  She felt in control.  She felt like she could dream something special and make it happen.  She so loves being able to make her siblings happy.  For a little girl who had never even been able to pick out what clothes she wore, who had never been allowed to go to school or play outside, and who never felt loved by anyone…this was so much more than someone granting her a wish.  It was life changing!

Thank you to the Iowa Chapter of Make-A-Wish and to everyone who donates and makes these wishes happen.