After Neva’s final cancer treatment, she and Abby visited the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center in Pine Mountain, Ga. While discussing what Neva’s wish might be, they stopped by the center’s wishing well. “How do I wish for something?” Neva asked her mother. Abby looked down at her daughter and said, “You close your eyes, you imagine it, you throw your penny into the water, and a wishing fairy will find a way to make it come true.”
Neva did just that, but upon opening her eyes, she looked down at her legs as tears filled her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Abby asked.
“I still have legs,” Neva replied. “I just want to be a mermaid.”
Neva’s wish was born.
A collective force of Make-A-Wish® staff and volunteers came together to grant it. Before long, Neva was on her first flight ever to visit Los Angeles, to see the ocean for only the second time, and to be a mermaid.
“Any mermaid she sees in the movies,” Abby said, “she feels so much with her heart.” But none could compare to Neva’s mermaid trainer, Linden. From teaching “mermanners” and how to sing underwater, to playing with gemstones and sending Neva on a treasure hunt, to helping Neva enhance her swimming skills, Linden transformed Neva’s life.
“Her imagination and her sense of wonder was just something to behold,” says Linden, a longtime wish granter for aspiring mermaids and mermen. “Knowing that child in that window of time completely forgets about all they’ve been going through –they get to be a normal, healthy, happy, excited child – [it] is the most rewarding experience that I have ever had.”
And just what is it about merpeople that captivate wish kids like Neva?
“The ocean is a mysterious and beautiful place that many of us don’t know much about,” Linden says. “There is something about being half human and half ocean creature; something beautiful and graceful. There’s so much folklore and fairy tales around that. Becoming part of that fantasy offers an over-the-top level of enchantment.”
Of course, Neva has her own take on what it’s like to be a mermaid. “It was awesomesauce!” she exclaimed. “A million and two thumbs up! I learned how to swim with a mermaid and hold my breath under water – and I did for quite a long time.”
Abby says she saw a change in Neva during her wish trip. “I could feel it. I just saw in her this new attitude – the way she wore her backpack and went through security on the way home and marched along. She listened so well. It was confidence and awareness.
“Her world got bigger and I could see her try to stand a little taller to fill it. It was a nice balance to the memories that we have of treatment, and her losing her hair. To replace those memories with fun memories and something great coming out of it … not remembering hospital days; now we remember beach days and that day she got to be a mermaid … that is something Neva will carry with her for the rest of her life.”
You may recognize Neva as one of our featured wish kids in Make-A-Wish’s World Wish Day® campaign! Wishes take muscle and give kids the strength they need to fight their illnesses. Special thanks to WWE Superstar John Cena and WWE for enhancing Neva’s wish and the wishes of many other children with critical illnesses as we gear up for an incredible World Wish Day. Make-A-Wish Georgia and Make-A-Wish Greater Los Angeles also ensured Neva’s wish came true.
Main photo credit: Nathan Lucas
Wishes like Neva’s take muscle – a collective force of doctors, donors, volunteers – even mermaids – who make the seemingly impossible possible, giving children with critical illnesses a higher chance of survival. Help us make sure every wish comes true. This World Wish Day, donate at wish.org.