Atlantic County News

Buena, New Jersey Teen with Rare, Life-Threatening Condition has Wish to Swim with Dolphins Granted by Make-A-Wish New Jersey

A local child’s wish recently came true thanks to Make-A-Wish New Jersey, whose mission is to create life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. During this season of thanks, Make-A-Wish New Jersey commends its heartfelt gratitude to supporting partners and donors, aiding in their mission. One wish child, 17-year-old Juliana of Buena, New Jersey, was recently granted her wish to swim with dolphins. Juliana’s wish came true thanks to the dedicated support of Big I New Jersey & Trusted Choice. This partnership has continued for over 20 years and resulted in over $800,000 in contributions to Make-A-Wish New Jersey, granting countless wishes to children with critical illnesses like Juliana.

Juliana was diagnosed with Asperger’s at a young age, and a few years ago, doctors discovered deposits of iron in Juliana’s brain. As a result, she was diagnosed with a rare, life-threatening nervous system disorder known as NBIA (Neurodegenerative Brain Iron Accumulation). NBIA is defined as a group of rare, genetic neurological disorders characterized by abnormal accumulation of iron in the basal ganglia. The exact relationship between iron accumulation and the symptoms of NBIA is not fully understood, there is currently no cure and there is limited research on the disease. But even in the face of so much unknown, Juliana faces her condition every day with positivity, courage, and has always remained open about the struggles she and her family have faced.

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“This is such a rare thing; how does a 17-year-old explain it?” Juliana’s mom Megan shared. “She wants to be more open about it, and wants to draw more attention to rare diseases. People don’t know and because they don’t know, they don’t ask. She would rather they ask.”

Throughout her life, Juliana has always felt an affiliation to dolphins. They are known to be highly intelligent, empathetic, and unique mammals. With scientists still trying to understand their vast communication, dolphins remain very mysterious and divergent creatures in the ocean. Juliana sometimes feels different herself, in that people do not fully understand her and her illness. With the help of Make-A-Wish New Jersey, Juliana was able to escape the routine of doctor visits, hospitals and medical treatments. Her days were now filled with hope and anticipation for her upcoming adventure.

On the day of her wish, a limousine arrived at their home in Buena, New Jersey to escort them to the airport. Upon their family’s arrival in Atlantis, Bahamas, Juliana’s family was “blown away,” according to her mom. Having all accommodations already taken care of during their stay, this was the first time in a long time their family could relax and be a “normal” family again.

As anticipated, the highlight of Juliana’s trip was bonding with dolphins. Her mother was impressed by her daughter’s bravery during the deep-water excursion. She watched in awe and pride as her daughter beamed with joy, playing with her favorite aquatic animals in the water, and experienced a sense of freedom she hadn’t felt in a very long time.

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A trip filled with many smiles, it was a memory that Juliana’s family would never forget.

“I want to thank you for everything you have done for our family,” Juliana shared with Make-A-Wish New Jersey upon their return. “I’ve never experienced this much joy and happiness all at once! I really enjoyed riding on a dolphin’s dorsal fin. You gave me a dream come true. I thought I would almost never be happy, now that I have this illness. This trip to the Bahamas proved me wrong. There is joy and there is happiness. I am very grateful that you shared this magic with us.”

In the face of adversity, Juliana and her family have always remained steadfast in the belief that giving up was not an option. Their family motto: “Keep moving forward.”

“I’m proud of our longtime relationship with Make-A-Wish New Jersey,” shared Sheri Acconzo, President & CEO of Big I New Jersey. “They truly make a difference in children’s lives. When you see the pictures of Juliana and her family from her wish trip, you can see it. I was so touched to read Juliana’s note expressing the joy and happiness she felt during her time in the Bahamas and am thrilled that Trusted Choice was able to make that happen for her!”

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Make-A-Wish New Jersey has granted nearly 11,000 wishes since its inception in 1983. The generous support of corporations like Big I New Jersey and Trusted Choice is critical to the organization’s continued success.

For more information about Make-A-Wish New Jersey, visit nj.wish.org.

About Make-A-Wish® New Jersey
Make-A-Wish New Jersey creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses. In the fight against a critical illness, a wish serves as a catalyst for renewed strength and encouragement for every child and family on their journey. A wish helps kids look past their limitations, families overcome anxiety and entire communities experience joy. Most importantly, wishes can improve a child’s quality of life. Put simply, we believe a single wish transforms lives. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Make-A-Wish is one of the world’s leading children’s charities, with 60 chapters serving children in every community in the United States and its territories, and 41 international affiliates serving children on five continents. Make-A-Wish New Jersey was founded in 1983. Serving children in every municipality in the Garden State, Make-A-Wish New Jersey has granted nearly 11,000 wishes since its inception. For more information about Make-A-Wish New Jersey, call 800-252-WISH or visit nj.wish.org and discover how you can help transform lives, one wish at a time.

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