MAHOMET — Ten-year-old Isabella "Izzy" Gonzalez knows all about the world of hospitals, doctors and intensive care, but she's about to leave all that behind for a week with her family and enter the magical world of Disney.
Born with a rare, life-threatening medical condition, Izzy has been granted a Make-A-Wish trip to Walt Disney World — plus a surprise to go with it.
Before leaving for Orlando, Fla., later this week, the Mahomet girl and her 12-year-old sister, Rebekah, were given a salon treatment Tuesday in Champaign, courtesy of Rod Sickler Salon & Spa.
The salon trip was kept a secret from the girls until they arrived. Izzy chose bright purple nail polish for her fingers and toes and a braided coronation hairdo from a Disney movie she loves, "Frozen."
The whole experience, from the salon trip for both girls to the upcoming Disney vacation, "fills our hearts," said the girls' mom, Susan Gonzalez.
Her younger daughter "is doing something that she has always wanted to do, and it doesn't have anything to do with being in the hospital," she said. "She gets to be a regular kid."
Izzy was born with VATER syndrome, also sometimes called VACTERL syndrome or association, which stands for a group of malformations that can include vertebrae, anus, cardiac, tracheoesophageal, renal and limb defects.
Children diagnosed with VATER/VACTERL don't necessarily have all these defects, but typically have three, according to the National Institutes of Health.
David Gonzalez said his daughter has been in hospitals every year of her life since birth.
Izzy needed surgery right away when she was born without an anus. She was also born with only one kidney, scoliosis and a nerve-damage condition that left her without bladder control. She also has respiratory problems and a weakened immune system, David Gonzalez said.
A few years ago, she caught a cold that led to pneumonia and wound up in the hospital on life support for 41 days, he said.
"This time of year, she ends up in the hospital with a couple cases of pneumonia, but this year it's been pretty good," he added.
Gonzalez said Izzy is so familiar with being in the hospital that one year, when her family asked her where she wanted her birthday party, she said in the hospital with all the doctors and nurses.
But there's a lot more to the fourth-grader than being ill. She's outgoing and loves to sing, dance and act.
"She's quite a character," her father said. "To see her and talk to her, you wouldn't know that anything's wrong."
She also talks to other children in the hospital and tries to help them through their experience, he said.
To help other kids even more, she's started a project called "Sweet Dreams by Izzy," assembling and giving out care packages containing such items as a plush animal, blanket and toothbrush. She's given some to kids at the Ronald McDonald House and to some children of clients of the Center for Women in Transition in Champaign.
She has a Facebook page for her project, and David Gonzalez said she hopes to give out more of these packages to kids at Carle.
Meanwhile, she's thrilled about the trip to Disney World, and the prospect of flying on an airplane.
"She's been talking about this for a long time," her father said.
When the family returns from the trip, he said, they hope Izzy will be able to go back to school. She's been with a home tutor for the winter flu season, but "she's a very sociable person," he said.
Izzy will need medical care all her life, but her father said and his family are hopeful that medicine will advance enough to help her more. Meanwhile, they're grateful that she escaped some of the other serious defects she might have had with her disorder.
"We consider ourselves blessed," he said.
— Each year, 1,200 children in Illinois are newly diagnosed with life-threatening medical conditions, according to Make-A-Wish Illinois.
— Make-A-Wish believes the wishes it aims to fulfill are an important part of overall care and treatment for each child.
— The Illinois chapter has granted more than 11,000 wishes since 1985.