by Devin Fisher
Eight-year-old Savannah Goyette’s face beams with excitement when she talks about her recent vacation aboard the Disney Wonder cruise ship that included a visit to her dream destination, Disney’s private island, Castaway Cay.
Savannah was surprised in June when she was told the Make-A-Wish Foundation would grant her wish. That day, she told her wish grantor all about her desire to take a cruise to Castaway Cay in the Bahamas. Two months later, Savannah, her mother, Spc. Tabatha Goyette, 10th Combat Support Hospital, and her father, Joey, left for the Disney getaway.
Savannah, who was diagnosed when she was
11 months old with cystic fibrosis, a chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, said she picked the Disney adventure for her wish “because it is on the sea and I always wanted to go to Castaway Cay.”
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic chronic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system of about 30,000 children and adults in the United States and 70,000 worldwide, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Web site. In the 1950s, few children with cystic fibrosis lived to attend elementary school, but advances in research and medical treatments have further enhanced and extended life for children and adults; the Web site says many people with the disease can now expect to live into their 30s, 40s and beyond.
The Goyettes were officially notified Aug.
18 that Savannah’s wish had been granted when wish-grantor Sharon Eckrich delivered their airline and cruise tickets. Unbeknownst to Eckrich, Tabatha had planned a party for the neighborhood children to help celebrate the occasion.
“It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen (in 19 years as a wish grantor). Savannah was giving back in her own community,” said Eckrich. She said the Goyette Family took it on themselves to provide each child at the party with a Disney toy.
When asked what she enjoyed most about the cruise, Savannah quickly answered, “Everything.” She said the bean bag races onboard the ship were “fun, fun, fun.” Savannah couldn’t hold back a
huge smile as she talked about being on the ship’s closed-circuit television twice during her journey, once to sing with the crew from Disney’s High School Musical movies via satellite.
“I got to go get free ice cream whenever I wanted,” she said.
Mickey Mouse hosted a Make-A-Wish party private session with the 11 Make-A-Wish families on board the Disney Wonder cruise Aug. 23-28, posing for photographs and signing autographs.
Although Savannah didn’t have the opportunity to meet Goofy’s son Max, or Huey, Dewey and Louie, her Disney autograph book is impressive. Among those signing her book were Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald and Daisy Duck, Lilo and Stitch, Snow White, Cinderella and Chip and Dale.
“It (the cruise) was phenomenal, very family-oriented,” Tabatha said.
“It exceeded our expectations,” Joey said.
“(Savannah) got a wrist band when we first boarded the cruise so she was able to run freely and enjoy the numerous activities onboard the ship. It was nice knowing we could let her do her own activities and not have to worry about her,” she said.
“They issued us a pager (and) each time she changed activities, it would page us to let us know where she was,” Joey said.
The tracking devices allowed the grown-ups to also take full advantage of the amenities as Joey and Tabatha relaxed in the hot tub, watched classic Disney movies and sneak previews on a huge movie screen, and took part in “game shows” to test their Disney knowledge.
The Goyettes learned Savannah had cystic fibrosis in 2001.
Savannah “didn’t really grow a lot when she was little,” so her doctor put her in the hospital to run some tests, Tabatha recalls.
“It was a shock to everybody (in the family) that the CF test came up positive,” she said.
“(The doctors) shot stats at you so fast you couldn’t remember anything,” said Joey, noting the doctors told them the only thing they would remember from that day is that she has cystic fibrosis.
With Savannah’s medications costing $8,000 a month, and out-of-pocket medical expenses and insurance premiums constantly rising, Tabatha joined the Army in 2005. She said an enormous weight was lifted off her shoulders when the Family no longer had to worry about how they would pay for Savannah’s medications and could focus their energies on her health.
“We were getting to the point where we were struggling, where you make too much to qualify for any help and don’t make enough to make ends meet,” Tabatha said. “We were at a stump and wanted something different … we wanted (Savannah) to travel … so I put on the boots.”
The Goyettes, who arrived at Fort Carson
Nov. 11, raved about the support they have received from their unit, the on-post schools and their caring neighbors.
“My command is really good and understanding,” Tabatha said. “They are always asking if I need any help. They don’t bat an eye if I have to take her to the doctor.”
Savannah has a two-hour-a-day respiratory regimen and travels to The Children’s Hospital in Denver for tests every three months.
“It’s been awesome,” Tabatha said of her decision to join the military.
The doctors’ instructions from day one have been for the Goyettes to treat Savannah like a normal child.
Joey said, “It was rough at first, mom wanted to keep her inside, locked up.”
Tabatha said the doctors told her the worst thing they could do is coddle her.
“(Today, Savannah) is mainstream,” Tabatha said, noting she has homework, gets grounded, is a cheerleader and has pets – a dog, a cat, a bird and fish. “The only thing different about school is if a student (in her classroom) is sick or has the sniffles, (Savannah) has to wear a (respirator) mask.”
She said the family-oriented atmosphere in the Choctaw Village has allowed the Goyettes to take heed of the doctors’ instructions from day one, to treat Savannah like a normal child.
“Everyone treats Savannah like all the other kids in the neighborhood,” Tabatha said.
Since its inception in 1983, Make-A-Wish has granted nearly 184,000 wishes to children in the United States, according to the foundation’s Web site. Make-A-Wish is one of many nonprofit organizations that benefit from the Combined Federal Campaign, which kicks off Oct. 14.