Children’s Dream Fund Helps Teenager With Rare Heart Condition Meet Her Favorite Internet Cat Celebrities

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If ever there was a reason to live each day to the fullest, it is this story. It’s a reminder that life is precious and we need to cherish what brings us joy. Many times life doesn’t make it easy for us to do this though. Family, work or school fill our days with hustle and bustle. We strive to reach our goals or simply just make it through each day successfully. And those that can hold their head high and tackle whatever the world throws at us, inspire the rest. For one teenager in Florida, her escape from the stressors of adolescence was to watch online cat videos. She never imagined that a medical condition would one day lead her to meeting her favorite internet cat celebrities.

And NO one could have imagined that it would be a rare heart condition that led her to being face-to-face with those famous cat celebrities.

It began as a completely normal school year for teen Sara. Having just begun her Freshman year of high school, life’s possibilities were endless. And for Sara, she had passion for sports, swimming in particular. 

She was excited to be a member of the swim team. She had started swimming when she was 9, swam year round, and was in the beginning of her first high school season.

Her dedication knew no bounds, and exhausts me just reading her schedule. Rising early every morning, she attended swim practice sometimes twice a day! But if you’re doing what you love, every second is worth it. 

It was a Wednesday, so she had double practice – so she had practice at 5-6:30am, then high school from 7:15 a.m.-2:15 p.m, then back to the pool for afternoon practice from 3-5 p.m.

After her long days in the pool and once her homework was done, she’d settle into a comfy spot and indulge in silly cat videos. 

Because besides her passion for the aquatic realm, Sara is a huge cat lover.

During her free time…no, I have NO clue when that is, she volunteers at Satchel’s Last Resort in Sarasota. 

Satchels Last Resort Animal Shelter takes in dogs and cats with special needs, medical and/or behavior needs, saving their life. We work to rehabilitate the animal and adopt them to loving, responsible homes, where they will be loved as a family member.

But there were two felines that Sara watched on YouTube that held a special place in her heart; Cole and Marmalade. She loved learning from their educational videos and frequently shared them with her friends and family.

Photo property of Cole and Marmalade

Even though her life was about to drastically change, those two furry faces would play another important part in her short existence. 

It was on that average Wednesday that Sara’s unexpected condition reared it’s ugly head and introduced itself in the worst way.

Sara went about the day like any other. But after her second swim practice, she began to feel a bit “off”.

During the afternoon practice, she started to feel oddly out of breath – and after practice she felt worse and worse and worse. After being picked up and driven home, she became extremely sick and suddenly passed out.

By the time she came to, we had called 911 and an ambulance was on the way. The life-saving EMTs quickly saw she was in wide complex tachycardia, with a heart rate of 240, which easily leads to Sudden Cardiac Arrest. She was rushed to the ER, where she was cardioverted, and then was life-flighted to the local Children’s Hospital.

Two days later she received a life-changing diagnosis: Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy (ARVC).

This is a progressive heart disease typically diagnosed post-mortem after an athlete collapses in a race, a basketball court, a football field, a soccer field, etc.

Sara was so lucky that she survived. But her life was changed. She was in the hospital for 3 1/2 weeks, and had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) implanted.

She’d never be able to swim competitively again or participate in any competitive sports.

Sara’s first swim lessons

Sara’s heart condition meant she’d have to give up the sport she had loved since she was 9 years old.

The sweet teenagers entire life would never be the same, but she had one thing others may not…an unbreakable spirit. Because her life was fundamentally changed, a representative from the Children’s Dream Fund visited Sara and told them that Sara was eligible to have a dream fulfilled. The dream could be as big as she imagined!

They asked her to think of what her biggest dream to do would be, and they would work with the family to make it happen. But Sara’s mom, Laura didn’t expect to hear what her brave daughter requested. 

After thinking of all her options, Sara asked them if it would be possible to meet Cole and Marmalade. Forget Hawaii or Alaska or meeting Taylor Swift. Sara wanted to meet Cole and Marmalade (CaM).

It was a long shot, but Laura knew from the cats social media pages that their family had just moved back to Florida. And it just so happened they were only about an hour away in Tampa. So she took a chance and messaged their Facebook page. And where CaM cat mom Jessica Josephs answered. 

I’ll never forget reading her first message when she told us about Sara’s condition and what had happened. At the time, Sara was still in the hospital and she simply wanted to see if the feline’s human “servants” could visit the ward. 

But when I discovered where they were located, I had a better idea to celebrate Sara’s heroic recovery.

Working with her mom, and as long as she assured everyone a surprise was okay for her heart condition, Sara would meet the famous felines in person! 

So under the guise of JUST visiting Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, another huge wish list item for Sara, the plan was set. In February 2020, they surprised Sara with her deepest desire. Without knowing this was happening beforehand, she met Cole, Marmalade and their humans Cat Man Chris and JessiCAT. 

Bonus, tortie sisters, Jugg and Zig Zag were there to give loving too. Nothing beats a “Jugg-hug”!

Except maybe a bit of Marm-a-derp face-to-face.

Sara’s still working with the Dream Fund on a well deserved dream trip though. 

They are hoping after the pandemic is over she may be able to visit Maui and the island of Lanai, home of the Lanai Cat Sanctuary. She loved her visit with Cole and Marmalade, and was beside herself to meet their humans Chris and Jess.

Every cloud does have a silver lining. Sara has found a new normal, a new calmer life with new time to explore lots of different interests. The amount of human kindness that has been extended to her (and her family) from friends and strangers has been overwhelming.

We’ll never forget meeting an inspiring soul like Sara’s.

To be honest, seeing that a simple cat video or story we create can induce a smile like hers, makes our dreams a reality too. And for that, we at the Cole and Marmalade family are forever grateful to be able to help create those moments. 

On September 25th, these four men responded to our 911 call and saved Sara’s life. They did so with a demeanor and professionalism that hid the true severity of the situation and kept Travis and me calm through a horrendous ordeal. It was only later that we learned how dire Sara’s circumstances were.
 
I’ve been trying since that night to find these men, and was finally successful last week. Sara and I were able to stop by their fire station to thank them. Although I will never ever be able to truly thank them. It was amazing talking to them and finding out their experience of that night. They were thrilled to see Sara alive and healthy.

Photos courtesy of Laura Walters or The Furtastic, LLC.

REMEMBER: SPAY/NEUTER, FOSTER, VOLUNTEER, TNR & AS ALWAYS, ADOPT, DON’T SHOP!

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