Young heart recipient's wish is granted: She's off to Disney World

November 02, 2007 12:00 am
Sierra Bingham of Haines is off to Disney World this weekend. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Sierra Bingham of Haines is off to Disney World this weekend. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By LISA BRITTON

Baker City Herald

Sierra Bingham, when asked for the one thing she would wish for, said she wanted to go to Disney World.

In California, a boy named Benjamin Thornton wished for the same trip.

And both youngsters also had this request: they wanted to go together.

This Sunday, Sierra and her family will fly to Florida and meet up with the Thornton family to enjoy a week at Disney World, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Sierra, 8, lives in Haines. In the spring of 2006 she became very ill, and was finally diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that causes the heart to become enlarged.

Her health quickly deteriorated as she waited, at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, Calif., for a donor heart.

At that time, there were eight other children, including Ben Thornton (he was 4), also awaiting a new heart.

Sierra's health declined so fast she was readied to go on mechanical heart support.

Then, on Aug. 3, Dr. Bruce Reitz of Lucile Packard performed three heart transplants in 36 hours — first Ben, then Sierra, then a boy named Peter.

Lucile Packard usually records 10 to 15 heart transplants per year.

The Thorntons and Binghams became friends while enduring the ordeal in California (Ben was on mechanical heart support for 51 days before receiving his heart).

These days Sierra is a healthy 8-year-old who is taking ballet and learning to play the violin, said her dad, Jason. She must still go to Lucile Packard for biopsies every four months, and have blood draws every couple weeks, but she has had no rejection of the transplanted heart.

The process for Sierra's Make-A-Wish started when she was still in California.

To be eligible for the wish program, youth must be older than 2 and younger than 18, and be diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition.

This summer, Make-A-Wish volunteer Angie Benintendi from La Grande visited Sierra to find out her wish.

"It's whatever the kid wants to do," Benintendi said.

She said volunteers meet the family and bring gifts, and then keep in contact until the wish is granted.

"Just to keep the excitement going," she said.

Also, each Make-A-Wish child is treated to a send-off party at Bear Mountain Pizza in La Grande. Sierra's is Friday, and then she and her family — parents Jason and Stacy and sisters Megan and Lindsey — will get ready for Disney World. Her brother Hunter, 1, is staying home.

"I told the kids this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Jason Bingham said.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation began in 1980, and now has 67 chapters in the United States.

Oregon's Make-A-Wish chapter granted 163 wishes last year. Their Web site is www.orwish.org.