Because of a joint effort between 94.9 KLTY and Grapevine Mills Mall, Christmas wishes have been granted in ways Natalie Lawver of Waxahachie never dreamed possible.
The 7-year-old was recently treated to several special events that included an unlimited shopping spree in stores at Grapevine Mills Mall.
It all came about because New Life Worship Center children’s pastor Sean Byars submitted a Christmas wish request to the radio station on Natalie’s behalf.
Natalie has been diagnosed with faconi anemia, a disease that attacks her chromosomes and DNA, according to an e-mail from Mike Prendergast of KLTY.
“We established ‘Christmas wish’ six years ago to specifically help people and families that are in dire need or suffering in any way during the Christmas season,” KLTY vice president and general manager John L. Peroyea said.
Byars described Natalie’s experience to the Daily Light as stores and other venues were closed off to public access to allow Natalie to shop.
“You’d never know that anything is wrong with Natalie just to look at her, with the exception of the mask she must wear over her mouth and nose to protect her from germs,” said Byars, who said her immune system “bottomed out” last month, prohibiting her from direct contact with other people.
Byars described officials and staff of Grapevine Mills as “wonderful” in giving Natalie “virtually carte blanche” to their stores.
“The stores opened their doors to Natalie last Thursday at 6:30 a.m. with a private breakfast provided by the Rainforest Cafe, followed by an unlimited shopping spree in Justice for Girls, K-B Toys, Old Navy, Build-a-Bear, The Children’s Place, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and, Claires,” Byars said. “It lasted until about 10:30 that morning.
“I think the ladies who worked in Justice for Girls had more fun than Natalie helping her pick out some items. They really made her feel special,” Byars said, saying it was thrilling to see Natalie’s face light up whenever she would walk into a store and the gate would close behind her, giving her sole access to the merchandise inside.
In addition to the shopping spree, Natalie and her parents, Larry and Donna Lawver, were provided with a celebrity suite in the Gaylord Texan Hotel nearby, complete with unlimited room service.
“The Gaylord Texan has a show called ‘Ice,’ which is in a 19,000-square-foot space and consists of 2-million pounds of ice sculptures,” Byars said. “They have crowds to take a tour every 30 minutes, but they closed it off, giving Natalie her own private showing. They have a three-story ice slide and she got to slide down it.”
Byars said the experience happened on Natalie’s birthday and, since she was unable to have children attend her birthday party, the staff of the Gaylord Texan had a birthday cake and balloons awaiting her in her hotel suite.
“Old Navy put up special signs all over their store which said, ‘Welcome, Natalie’ and Best Buy gave her a $2,500 gift card, which she used to purchase a computer and a television,” Byars said.
“The Best Buy people were so awesome,” said Byars, who noted that when Natalie and her parents were walking through the store trying to find items, the store manager was careful to help her select items she would get the most use out of.
“Since Natalie is not able to come be around other people at church, we have been assisted in setting up equipment in the church so Natalie can watch the service by Web cast,” Byars said. “Not only can she watch us, but, with the push of a button, the congregation is able to see her occasionally on the big screen during services.”
Byars said that about 25 children in his church have access to a “store” in which they have the privilege of spending tokens they earn every time they bring their Bible to church, memorize a scripture, win a certain game or bring a guest with them to church.
“Rather than use their points to shop for themselves, all the kids chose to give theirs to Natalie,” Byars said, adding that the children’s church ministry chose to pay for one year of Internet service for Natalie.
According to a press release by KLTY, Natalie’s illness is so advanced that she has been placed in a homebound state. If she goes out, she has to wear a breathing mask to protect herself as her immune system is too weak to block any infections or illnesses. Natalie has had a bone marrow transplant and numerous surgeries, ranging from re-constructive surgery on her hand to surgery to open her airway.
During exams at Cooks Children’s Hospital, doctors were concerned about nodules in Natalie’s lungs that showed up in X-rays, Byars said, saying, “Last Monday, reports came back and the nodules were nowhere to be found.”
When Natalie was 17 months old, Larry and Donna Lawver began the adoption process, but it wasn’t until Natalie was 2 years old that the adoption was finalized.
Byars explained that since Larry Lawver works in the MHMR field, he and Donna felt they were equipped to care for a child who had health issues.
“Actually, rather than Larry and I being the ones who are caring for a child with health problems, we are on the receiving end of the blessings. We are blessed by Natalie. She is a wonderful, beautiful little girl. In fact, she is just ‘life’ to us,” Donna Lawver said. “You know, people are really missing out on a lot by refusing to move out of their comfort zone and reach out to a child who has challenges like Natalie has, but oh the joys and blessings are so plentiful.
“I am confident that Natalie is going to overcome this disease one day,” Donna said.
E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org