A wish fit for a princess
4-year-old looks forward to having a tea party at Disney World.
It doesn’t take a fancy ball, an extravagant gown or even a fairy tale to make a princess.
All it really takes is a precious little girl with a big imagination and a fondness for sparkling things.
Leyha Bartels of Brady will turn 5 this fall and she knows pretty much everything a child could know about Snow White and Cinderella and the world’s other princesses.
She has a closet full of pretty dresses, several pair of glitter-covered shoes, shiny lip gloss that makes her feel beautiful and even a runway walk and wave fit for royalty.
And next week, the biggest wish in the mind of this energetic 4-year-old will come true. She’s going to have a tea party with “real” princesses at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL.
She’s also going to meet Spiderman, Mickey Mouse and Shrek.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation is making the trip possible for the family.
Leyha has been counting down the days—usually using her fingers—until her plane leaves for Florida on July 20 with her and mother Catherine Stewart, father Jason Bartels, grandmother Sue Spurgin and brother Hunter aboard.
Leyha’s mind is full of princesses and other Disney characters but she also knows a lot about some big words that preschool children shouldn’t have to learn.
Leyha can carry on an adult conversation about chemotherapy, radiation and stem cells.
“She’s a 4-year-old going on 30,” Catherine says.
She’s quick to show off the scar on her tummy and the marks that remain on her back from her bone marrow transplant.
Right before her third birthday in November 2009, Leyha was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a cancer that develops from nerve tissues.
Surgeons at Children’s Hospital in Omaha removed a tumor from her abdomen before mega doses of chemo and radiation were used to fight off the rest of the cancer cells over a nine-month period from December 2009 to August 2010.
After the bad stuff was killed off, new stem cells were transplanted.
Through it all, Catherine says Leyha never lost her sense of humor or her rambunctious attitude toward life.
“The nurses and everybody were amazed,” Catherine said. “She was 90 miles an hour through it all except after the bone marrow transplant. That really knocked her down.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case for Leyha’s mom and grandma. Emotions got the best of them many times throughout the ordeal.
“It was so hard not being able to be there for them every minute of every day,” Sue said of her daughter and first granddaughter as tears welled in her eyes.
Sue made several trips back and forth to Omaha but needed to keep working to hold the family finances together.
“I probably called a hundred times a day.”
Catherine’s torment was multiplied by the fact that not only was she helplessly watching her daughter suffer from the side effects of the chemo and radiation but she was also missing her baby boy, just months old and back home with Sue.
“I felt so alone,” she said.
And she worried.
Leyha was born with Turner’s Syndrome, a chromosomal condition in which one of the X chromosomes is missing.
Catherine said the effects of the syndrome combined with the cancer and its treatment were rough on Leyha’s body.
“She was already having to deal with so much and then to get cancer on top of it,” Catherine said. “I just wanted to know why. Why her?”
Still, Leyha fought through it like a trooper, teaching everyone she came in contact with that there’s still plenty of things to be happy about.
The biggest joy for them all was when blood tests and body scans done in October 2010 came back with no signs of cancer.
“She’s our little miracle,” Sue said.
Last month, Catherine took Leyha back for more check-ups.
“The doctor was amazed at how well she is,” Catherine said. “He said it’s the best he’s seen her since the beginning.”
It’s unbelievable news for the family.
“We’ve said lots and lots and lots of prayers,” Sue said, “and she’s had people from all over the country praying for her. I think she was on every prayer chain from one coast to the other.”
Faith, Catherine said, is what has brought her through all this and more.
Catherine’s father died of cancer in 2005 and her grandmother lost her battle with cancer in 2007.
When Leyha was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, Catherine said she never lost her faith but questioned it plenty.
“I just couldn’t understand how this could happen to me over and over,” she said. “But I know I have angels all around me.”
One of those angels is a little girl named Leyha.
Leyha has gained about 25 pounds in the past nine months and is beyond the point of a compromised immune system.
“For over a year, we couldn’t do anything or go anywhere with her for fear that she would get sick,” Catherine said. “Now we’re on the go all the time.”
Next week, Leyha will be making the biggest trip of her life and her mother’s life too.
While they were at Children’s Hospital, Catherine said she filled out a variety of forms for different organizations that make dreams come true for children with life-threatening conditions.
From there, hospital staff did all the work.
When Catherine was notified that Leyha would be granted a wish from the Make-A-Wish Foundation, she said there was no hesitation in the little girl’s choice.
“She knew right away she wanted a tea party with the Disney princesses,” Catherine said.
At first the trip included only mom, dad, Leyha and little brother Hunter.
“But Leyha cried and told them she wanted her grandma to go,” Sue said, “so I am.”
The Make-A-Wish trip includes tickets to Universal Studios, Disney World and Sea World. Sue said they’ll also take a side trip to Daytona to see the beach and touch the ocean.
“We’ve never been anywhere like this,” Sue said. “We’re all very excited.”
No one is more excited than Leyha, though.
“How many more days?” Sue asked Leyha.
“I want to go today!”