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Caleb's wish to be a zookeeper

“ …this wish was truly the highlight of our lives. ”

- Wish dad Paul

Caleb, 11, knew his wish would involve animals. Caleb’s wish of being a zookeeper came true with a trip to the San Diego Zoo in September. 

Since Caleb was very young, his parents noticed a difference in the way Caleb developed compared to most children his age. Their concern led to many doctor visits and, eventually, a referral to a neurologist. Caleb’s neurologist informed the family that he had a neuromuscular disorder. The family discovered that this condition would eventually cause Caleb to become immobile. Caleb’s father, Paul, recalled their reaction, “We were shocked. Absolutely shocked.” 

Caleb began seeing a physical therapist weekly who mentioned that Caleb would qualify for a wish through Make-A-Wish® South Dakota. At first, his parents were hesitant but decided to pursue a wish for Caleb earlier this year. Caleb’s mother, Laura, said, “We wanted to do Caleb’s wish while he was still mobile and could get the most out of this experience.” 
Caleb’s love for animals was the driving force in his wish decision. He decided to go to the San Diego Zoo in hopes of seeing his three favorite animals: otters, monkeys, and penguins. Caleb’s parents remembered the day Caleb found out about his wish, “We went to Great Bear USA and were driving through the park.  Caleb had no idea we were about to reveal his wish to him. He was a bit shy at first but was definitely excited… He received 42 stuffed animals from his wish team that he got to open each day leading up to his trip.” These stuffed animals, provided by a generous donor, built anticipation and excitement for Caleb around his wish. On his wish trip, Caleb saw his three favorite animals and had close encounters with many others, including a koala, a sloth, and a macaroni penguin. When asked what his favorite animal on the trip was, Caleb said, “The koala was really soft when I held him!” 
The highlight of Caleb’s wish trip was swimming with otters at an organization named Nurture by Nature. Laura claimed that this was the best moment of the trip for the entire family. She loved “seeing the pure joy on everyone’s faces, especially the older kids… You often wonder if [this trip] impacts them, but when you see them release those emotions, you know it does.”  

Both of Caleb’s parents agree that Caleb’s wish trip was very impactful because it gave the family time to process Caleb’s diagnosis and its future implications.  Paul stated, “You get so caught up in how busy your everyday life is that you forget how important it is to process what’s going on as a family. This trip gave us time and an environment to do this.” Caleb’s parents are also grateful for the positive memories from the trip that will unite their family for years to come. 

After his wish trip, Caleb and his family began telling everyone about their life-changing experience and hope to encourage other qualifying families to participate in a wish. Because of the family’s experience, Caleb’s church is now donating their Sunday school offering to Make-A-Wish to help grant other kids wishes in the state of South Dakota. Best of all, Caleb and his family plan to be an active part of the Make-A-Wish family, so make sure you watch for them at future Make-A-Wish South Dakota events!  

Paul would like to thank all those involved with the words, “Thank you isn’t big enough for what our family got to experience… This wish was truly the highlight of our lives.”  

Caleb’s wish was made possible by Adopt-A-Wish® partner Black Hills Make-A-Wish Golf Tournament hosted by Farmers Insurance - Brad Derby Agency, Inc.

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Make-A-Wish® South Dakota
1400 West 17th Street
Sioux Falls, SD 57104
(605) 335-8000
Toll Free (800) 640-9198
Make-A-Wish® South Dakota, Black Hills Office
14 Saint Joseph St. Suite 302
Rapid City, SD 57701
(605) 791-4500
Toll Free (800) 640-9198