A Coaldale girl and her family recently had the time of their lives visiting "Mickey's House" and other Florida attractions.
Olivia Kupinsky, 8, her sister, Samantha, 14, and her parents, Carolyn and William Kupinsky, visited Disney World compliments of Make a Wish Foundation.
Oliva became eligible for a wish trip because of her heart problems. She was born Nov. 20, 2004, in Palmerton Hospital. Shortly after birth, Olivia began experiencing respiratory distress. She was immediately taken by ambulance to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) at Lehigh Valley Hospital.
She was baptized that night by her family's parish priest, the Rev. Michael Derzack, who came to the hospital to be by her side. Everyone feared the worst was about to happen. Once stabilized in the Lehigh Valley NICU, it was discovered that Oliva had Down syndrome, Tetralogy of Fallot with AV canal defect and congenital hypothyroidism.
Oliva spent 31 days in the Lehigh Valley NICU, where she seemed to be a "failure to thrive baby" and very much an enigma.
She was then transferred to Hershey Medical Center where she was diagnosed with food protein induced enterocolitis. She was sent home from Hershey three days later, on Christmas Eve, with an amino-acid based formula and a feeding tube.
Olivia was a fighter and began to thrive, but not without adjustments in the household.
In short order, Carolyn resigned her position at Jim Thorpe National Bank and became Olivia's sole caretaker.
"Olivia needed me," she said.
Olivia began early intervention therapy with her family becoming her very first classroom, where a flurry of activity in the form of speech, occupational and physical therapists worked with her alongside the family. These therapies helped to strengthen Olivia for open-heart surgery four months later.
The surgery was performed by Dr. John Myers at Hershey Medical Center. The procedure was a success.
Immediately after surgery, Oliva's cheeks turned pink for the first time.
"The doctor said, 'She is blooming like a rose,'" said Carolyn.
Olivia was sent home with a very grateful family on Mother's Day in 2005.
Olivia continues to see her cardiologist every six months. The family is hopeful that there will be no need for any future surgeries.
While visiting Disney World was Oliva's initial dream, it was the family's stay at Give Kids the World Village that caused them to fall in love with Florida. Their goal is to go back someday and become a GKTW volunteer family and possibly retire to Florida to become long-term volunteers.
Give Kids the World Village is a special resort that has hosted 120,000 families with sick children from all 50 states and 74 countries. There are 140 themed villas at the 70-acre resort, which caters to giving young sick children and their families the time of their lives at a place that is pure magic. There are special entertainment attractions set in whimsical venues that are so entertaining that sometimes families opt to stay at the GKTW resort instead of leaving for other attractions. There is a gingerbread house, pizza shop, ice cream parlor, where you can have ice cream for breakfast, full size carousal, swimming pools, miniature golf (handicapped accessible) and lots more.
Olivia is in second grade at Panther Valley Elementary School, where she spends half her time in the classroom and the other half working in the life skills class. She also takes piano lessons and is a cheerleader.
She especially loves the Muppets and super hero action movies.
The family was so enamored by GKTW that they are hoping to spread the word of how much they enjoyed their stay there. To raise awareness and some funds, Oliva's school is holding a dress down day on May 23 to raise funds for GKTW.
"We've signed on to be GKTW Ambassadors," said Carolyn. "We're hoping to give back."