By MIRANDA BAINES
THE DAILY SOUTHERNER
Little Harper Doughtie, who has battled leukemia for one-third of her short, six-year life, got the wish of a lifetime earlier this year when Make-a-Wish Eastern North Carolina sent her and her parents to Walt Disney World in Orlando.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip,” said Harper’s mother, Vicky Mitchell. Doughtie’s lifelong wish to visit Disney was granted by Make-a-Wish Eastern North Carolina in the spring.
“I was surprised,” Harper admitted. Her parents, Mitchell and Matt Doughtie, didn’t tell her she was going to Disney until they got to the airport. Seeing the Magic Castle on the horizon when she first arrived at Disney made the experience real for little Harper..
“I felt like I was a princess,” Harper said. She got the princess treatment in the castle later in the trip. Her own fairy godmother outfitted her with a Sleeping Beauty dress and a tiara and did her hair and makeup.
“She wore that princess dress and that tiara around the park all day,” Mitchell said. Harper still has the dress in her closet today. Usually, there is a six-month wait for a child to become princess for a day in the magic castle, but the manager saw Doughtie’s Make-a-Wish button and made her dream of becoming a fairytale princess come true.
“If she wanted to meet a character or ride a ride, she didn’t have to wait in line. If you’re in the Make-a-Wish, they spoil you,” Mitchell said. Harper got a chance to meet plenty of characters. “My favorite Disney character is Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse and Rapunzel. I love Rapunzel,” Harper said. Other highlights of her trip were riding the Dumbo elephant ride and riding the carousel at the place where she and her family stayed – the “Give Kids the World Village.”
“’Give Kids the World’ is amazing. The whole place looks just like a cartoon. Everything’s bright colors,” said Mitchell. “They have a playground that’s a giant Candy Land game, an ice cream shop is open morning ‘til night … Everything’s taken care of for you.”
After dinner, Harper had fun gong to the la-de-da spa in the village.
“You get to get your nails painted, you get to get a massage. It was cool,” she said. Mitchell said it was nice to see her daughter “ do something that she’d been wanting to do for so long, and to get treated special, after everything she’s been through.”
“It is just a break from the illness,” she said. Mitchell also had a chance to interact with parents of other children with life-threatening medical conditions.
“These children and their families go through quite a bit of challenges and they make so many sacrifices,” said Jerry Peters, director of community engagement for Make-a-Wish Eastern North Carolina. “For that moment in time, they just get to be normal. They get to enjoy being a child.”
Last year, 169 wishes were granted in Eastern North Carolina.
“It’s really a unique opportunity,” Peters said. “It provides hope, strength and joy.”
The “volunteer wish granters” grant the child’s wish, whatever it might be, from a dream vacation to meeting a celebrity or athlete. Disney by far is the most popular travel destination for the children. He said it’s “not every day” that Make-a-Wish sends kids from Edgecombe County to Disney. Harper was one of the lucky ones.
“That was one of the best things ever and it came at such a good time,” Mitchell said. Harper was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in September 2011 at the age of 4. At the time, Mitchell was pregnant with her now 16-month-old son, Holden. Harper has since gone through regular chemotherapy treatments that left her tired, in pain and, last Easter, bald for her breakfast with the Easter Bunny at Classic Diner. Like many little girls, Harper enjoys playing in the park, playing board games with her family, dancing, drawing and playing dress-up, but she tires more easily than most children and is unable to be around children who are sick because of her weakened immune system.
“We try to keep things as normal as possible for her, but you never relax or stop thinking about it,” Mitchell said. “She has days like today (Thursday) when she’s feeling great, but two days ago, she couldn’t even get out of bed.”
Harper will finish her treatments next year and if she doesn’t have a relapse within five years, she will be considered cured from cancer, said Mitchell.
And despite this wish being granted, Harper said she had one more — that she would like to return to Disney one day when she’s well.