It was a year ago when Tatum Croft was diagnosed with leukemia. She was only three-years-old when she started to receive treatment twice a week, a process that is draining for an adult and twice as much for a child.
During those initial treatments she signed up for the Dream Connection, a non-profit organization granting wishes to children in East Tennessee.
The group behind the Dream Connection believes a dream come true to a child can give back, in some small way, that which disease and illness have taken away.
Nashea and Mark Croft experienced a dream come true following the devastation of their youngest daughter’s illness. Though the leukemia went into remission soon after treatment began, the cycle of treatments continues.
But then last month something amazing happened; the Dream Connection contacted the little girl and told her she could have one wish, anything she wanted.
Since the family was planning a trip to Disney, Tatum Croft already knew what she wanted. She was ready to go see the princesses and other Disney characters.
“We were going to drive down and maybe visit one park,” said Nashea Croft about the family’s plan.
But the Dream Connection did so much more for the family. They allowed them to stay a week at an exclusive resort for children with illnesses called Give Kids The World. Airfare, resort stay, meals, tickets to all the parks and spending money were provided to the family so they could vacation worry-free.
But the best part for the family was that they were treated like royalty, with ice cream for breakfast and continuous rides with no lines, said Tatum Croft’s parents.
They were told that in life everyone is a good giver or receiver, and this was their time to be on the receiving end, waited on and cared for. Though Tatum Croft was the one who was struck by the terrifying disease, the whole family was affected by it. The trip to Disney provided a time of relief and happiness for all of them.
“It was all so amazing,” said Nashea Croft. “We shared a common bond with other families so there was a comfortable atmosphere.”
The petite wide-eyed girl’s short blond hair is the only sign of her illness. She talked about the carousel ride and the Disney characters she met with a shy smile.
“It is such a hard thing to go through but we have met amazing people through this,” said Nashea Croft. “It’s a blessing.”
Give Kids The World is a village type atmosphere, with everything accessible to handicapped children. The streets are decorated with giant flowers and mushrooms and several parks have the appearance of a candy land game.
It snows on Thursday’s when Santa visits and the village mayor is a rabbit who lives in a little house with little furniture. Gifts were left for the family each day when they returned from the Disney parks, Sea World and Universal Studios.
The ceilings of the decorative buildings in the village are covered with gold stars from each child who has visited there. Over 50,000 stars glitter from above. These stars are left by children who have suffered, a small token to remind the staff why they work so hard to create happiness.
Tatum Croft left her star along with the others. The word “Bug” is written on it, and it will shine on the ceiling for generations to come.
Through this trying experience of Tatum Croft’s leukemia, the Croft family has captured one of the best memories, like a fairytale.
“It was an absolute dream,” said Nashea Croft.