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Where are they now: How Hayley's wish trip helped shape her future

  • Family photo

  • Apparently manatees like bell peppers

  • Bottle feeding a manatee

  • Swimming with manatees

  • Manatee Hayley

“ Not having to think about being sick for a whole week was probably the most meaningful part for me. ”

- Hayley, wish child

Hayley, 21, was walking on the beach recently when she discovered tiny little orange cup corals trapped under some rocks - their colors brilliant and bold.

That’s when it hit her.

"These little corals were doing their thing in such a harsh environment, against a whole lot of odds," said Hayley.  

This moment stands out to the University of Oregon marine biology major. It reminds her of all that she's overcome. "One of the hardest parts about being sick as a kid is that it's really hard to see that light at the end of the tunnel," said Hayley. "It was just one of those little moments where things come full circle and you realize you're lucky to be a part of everything."

Growing up, Hayley battled liver disease, but it's a battle she won. 

Hayley says she has always felt a love for the ocean and studying marine biology. That's why when Make-A-Wish Oregon offered to fulfill a dream she wished to interact with manatees.

"They are really only found on the southeast coast of the U.S., so it was something that I wouldn't normally have the chance to go see," said Hayley. 

In 2007, Make-A-Wish flew Hayley, then 14 years old, and her family to Florida. There she got to experience the Manatee Safari in Crystal River. She also spent time at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, home to rehabilitating manatees that have been injured in the wild. Finally, she got to go to SeaWorld.

Her Make-A-Wish experience gave her a chance to not think about being sick for a while. "It was just absolutely wonderful that the only thing on my mind that week was if the manatees were going to like me back or not," said Hayley. “Plus I got to hand-feed a manatee a bell pepper. Who can say they got to do that!"

Hayley holds memories of that trip close to her heart. It shaped her into the woman she is today - a woman who is determined to make a difference and to show people how special life truly is. 

"I want to help people, I want to help them understand the beauty on this planet and why we need to preserve it," said Hayley. "I definitely see myself happy and making other people happy. I promised myself I would never do anything that makes me unhappy. Life is too short for that."

I want to tell [other wish kids] to pick something that makes them happier than anything in the whole world - something you wouldn't dare to dream in a million years. ”

— Hayley

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