Alyssa, from Bedford, wished to go to Lapland at Christmas in 2018.
Six-year-old Alyssa lives in Bedford with her older brother and her parents. She wished to drink hot chocolate with Santa in Lapland and meet her pet husky Logan’s brothers and sisters who, Alyssa believes, live in Lapland with all the other snowdogs!
Doctors gathered round
Alyssa loves to sing, dance and play with her husky, Logan. But she had a tough start in life.
Everyone thought Alyssa had jaundice as a baby. Then her eyes began turning yellow and she was referred for blood tests at hospital.
Mum Tracy found herself being ushered behind closed curtains as doctors gathered around her. A serious problem with Alyssa’s liver meant she needed a transplant urgently. In just a few moments, Alyssa’s life was changed forever.
“All I could think was “is my baby going to die?” Explains Alyssa’s mum, Tracy. “I’d gone from having a perfect baby that morning to this.
"Everyone around me just kept talking about how ill she was and I couldn’t believe it. It was the most sombre and harrowing experience of my life.”
The long wait is over
Doctors think that Alyssa had biliary atresia, a rare childhood liver disease, from birth, day-by-day causing irreversible liver damage. It is likely that she was in a lot of pain as a baby because of her illness, but she is a tough cookie now.
After six weeks of waiting, the family received a call at 7am and an ambulance collected Alyssa fifteen minutes later.
“Giving her over to the doctors was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” adds Tracy.
Miraculously, in a 12-hour long surgery, doctors were able to use part of a 30-year-old’s liver to replace Alyssa’s damaged organ. Although the yellowing on Alyssa’s body went away almost straight away, the major surgery affected her development.
To stop her body from rejecting the liver, Alyssa must take medication for the rest of her life and have regular blood tests. The medication weakens her immune system and makes her more susceptible to illness.
Paying it forward
Tracy says, “Alyssa’s illness has taught our family to take every opportunity in life. When you go through something like this you become appreciative of the smallest things and take every day as it comes.
"Her dad and I have taken a real interest in the medical research around biliary atresia and liver transplants. Alyssa was part of a treatment trial and now we go to seminars, run in races and do everything we can to help advance the treatment options.
“Without charities like Make-A-Wish, life would be even more tough for families with children facing serious illnesses. We hope Alyssa’s wish will give our whole family an escape. Even just getting out of the hospital can be a big task for some families, so to do something totally extraordinary and for that one day just be like any other family, that’s amazing.
Elf on the Shelf
“When the wish date arrived, we told the children that we were going shopping and they didn’t question the bags we loaded into the car. The next morning at the hotel, our Elf on the Shelf had written on the mirror using my eyeliner and it said, “We’re going to Lapland!” Tristan read it out loud and then they were both screaming and jumping on the beds.
Just like a postcard
“We landed in Lapland in snowy darkness. Everything was so beautifully lit and there was snow as far as the eye could see, everything looked just like a postcard. Alyssa and Tristan were mesmerised. It’s really hard to describe, it’s like another world – so different to anywhere we’ve ever been to. We were given sleds and snowsuits when we arrived, but the children were too excited to unpack their clothes…they wanted to go outside for a snowball fight!
“As soon as we started climbing the snowy hill to the restaurant Alyssa and Tristan were sledding back down again so we were all shattered by the time we got back to the lodge, but we were all so excited that no one went to bed ‘til about midnight.
Logan’s husky family
“The trip was full of activities, and the children didn’t stop smiling the entire time. Alyssa’s favourite thing was meeting the huskies. She was so sad to leave our husky, Logan, at home so when she found a husky in Lapland that looked a bit like him, Alyssa spent the next 20 minutes stroking her and begging us to take her home. The children loved the fact that their dad, Stuart, was driving the husky sled and it went so fast!
Time for a hot chocolate
On the last day, we found Mrs Claus and she made us mugs of hot chocolate, just like Alyssa had wished for, before telling us where to find Santa. Alyssa and Tristan just looked at me amazed when they saw Santa, and they were even more amazed that he knew everything about them, and handed them each a gift they had asked for in their letters they’d written him which he was holding – Hairdorables for Alyssa, which had her jumping up and down!
“I’ll always remember Alyssa exclaiming “BEST HOLIDAY EVER!!” And it really was. The children were playing together, constantly happy. It was so sad coming home. The next day, Stuart texted me saying “I miss Lapland!”
The only positive from a negative situation
We’re going to make a photobook to help us keep the memories forever. We’re just so grateful - we’d never have been able to afford to go to Lapland without Make-A-Wish. When we first heard about Make-A-Wish, they told us the minimum age is three years old and, this is awful but, we didn’t even know if would we even make it to Alyssa being three years old. At that time, it was just a far off dream, we were just living day-by-day. Alyssa’s wish has given our family something positive – the only positive thing really - out of a negative situation. I just hope she stays well so we can have more adventures with her like this. This trip will stay with our family forever.
Not a care in the world
Every year, we celebrate Alyssa’s ‘liver birthday’ on 2nd January to mark the day of her successful transplant, and now we have this to remember too, our first snowy family holiday, the first of many I hope. It was so different to anything we’ve done before, just spending so much quality time in a beautiful, magical place. We didn’t have a care in the world, Alyssa left all thoughts of medicine and hospital at home, and the children just played, like children should.