My daughter, Eliza, was diagnosed at the age of 1 with Atypical Rett Syndrome, a genetic neurological disorder that primarily affects girls. The doctors told me that she would never walk or talk and that her life would be a non-functioning one. A prognosis no parent ever wants to face.
Despite those early predictions, I have been inspired watching Eliza over the last eight years since her diagnosis. I have witnessed her patience, her diligence, her persistence and her dedication to learning how to walk, to speak and, most recently, to read. Eliza gives all of herself to her teachers, her therapists and her family. Even when things are obviously difficult for her, she has a smile on her face and a tremendous sense of humor.
Eliza has always had a strong affinity for water. From infancy, being submerged in water has had a calming effect on her. This passion of hers has led us to visit some of the most amazing aquariums around the United States and to spend countless hours in the water as a family.
From the first time that Eliza watched the movie Dolphin Tale, she fell in love with Winter, a young dolphin who loses her tail. Eliza seemed to innately understand the dolphin's struggles. I would sit and watch her as she seemed to follow along with the story line. Cognitively, I'd not seen the level of awareness with such a mature story from her before. She seemed to experience deep emotions of joy, laughter, friendship, fear, despair and triumph. She would laugh as Sawyer and Hazel would interact and she would worry when Winter refused her tail. She expressed joy as Mandy and Mavis were released back to their families and cry with sadness every time the credits rolled at the end of the movie, as though she were saying goodbye to her friends forever. The show of emotional expression was significant and a sign of growth for Eliza as she had never had interest in anything other than animation.
We've watched both Dolphin Tale and Dolphin Tale 2 well over 100 times now and recently, we had the opportunity to travel to Clearwater Marine Aquarium with SpecialGlobe to meet Winter in person. As you can imagine, Eliza was beyond excited to reach out her hand and touch her wonderful friend in person. It took every ounce of my strength to hold Eliza on the platform so she wouldn't dive deep into the water and swim with Winter and Hope as had her friends Sawyer and Hazel.
I was so relieved that there were no tears as we said our goodbyes. Only the promise to visit Winter again at Clearwater Marine Aquarium to watch her movie and always, whenever we close our eyes, to feel her in our hearts.