'Tis the season when wishes come true and hope is renewed. Actually, that's the goal of the Make-A-Wish Foundation all year long. And the granting of Shaun Calhoun's wish, which began last month, will continue after the New Year.
"I wished to either go on a cruise, or go to Disney World, and my wish came true," the 11-year-old from Thomson said.
Shaun's mother, Mandy, said the family found out the Saturday before Thanksgiving that they were leaving the next day for a trip to Disney World. Before they were to fly to Orlando, they were to make a pit stop in Atlantic Station in Atlanta where Shaun was to be the city's honored guest and flip the switch to turn on their 50-ft. Christmas tree with 250,000 lights.
"I was a little bit nervous at first," Shaun said. "But as soon as I got up on the stage, I thought, 'This is not as scary as I thought.' All I had to do was just pull the switch."
Shaun "just pulled the switch" while sharing the stage with the band Collective Soul and the Atlanta Ballet Nutcracker Kids. Shaun's parents, Mandy and Mike, and his younger brother, Chase, were joined in the audience by a surprise visit of friends and family from Thomson.
"I thought I was going to freeze to death at practice. But that night, it was like nothing, I guess because I was nervous," Shaun said.
While he was on stage, an announcement was made that Shaun would not only be going to Disney World the next day, but was receiving a special surprise from the town - a four night stay at the Hotel Twelve, along with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Atlanta Aquarium, four tickets to see Cirque du Soleil and $100 gift cards to several places.
"It was the spirit of giving at Atlantic Station," Shaun said. "We are going in January."
The Calhoun's enjoyed many wonders during their week at Disney World, Universal Studios, Sea World and the other theme parks in Orlando. Shaun, who is a fifth grader at Dearing Elementary School, said he was awed by the Twister special effects show at Universal, where the movie Twister was recreated, complete with a tornado, right in front of his face.
On what his mom described as their "first family vacation with just the immediate family," the Calhoun's stayed at the "Give Kids the World" resort, courtesy of Make-A-Wish.
"We got to have ice cream for breakfast," Shaun said. "And it was actually nice to have chocolate for breakfast. My mom wasn't too crazy about that idea."
Other perks of "Give Kids the World" were exclusive visits by all the Disney characters, who came to the villa so the children would not have to wait in line at the parks to see them, and special passes to go to the front of the line everywhere they went.
"Even ahead of the fast-pass ticket holders," Shaun said. "It was really special. We wouldn't have been able to do all that we did if we didn't have those passes. I definitely recommend the fast-pass if anyone has to go to Disney World."
Give Kids the World is a non-profit resort for children with life threatening diseases. Make-A-Wish Foundation has been granting wishes for these same children for nearly 30 years.
"They are a very excellent group of people," Shaun said of Make-A-Wish. "What they did was just unbelievable. They are just awesome people."
Shaun, who has suffered from cystic fibrosis since he was five, is very candid about his disease. He hopes the renewal of the granted wish will last for many years.
"It's hard living with cystic fibrosis," he said. "I just get aggravated sometimes, because I have to take so many pills. And I just get tired of being sick all the time and having so many people say you are not going to live past 35. I just want to prove them wrong."
Mrs. Calhoun said Shaun's daily routine includes airway clearance treatments for two hours every day, beginning at 6 a.m., a special diet of high calories, protein and sodium, and 17 different daily medications. Because some of the medicines have side effects that make him sick, Sean's doctor allowed him to be off of them during his trip.
"My doctor said some kids don't do the treatments right every day, but I never slack off because I want to live as long as I can," Shaun said.
His mother said Shaun is "very independent," and does the treatments himself. He has to increase the sessions to four-a-day when he's sick. In the last couple of years, Shaun became infected with a rare lung bacteria, which has caused scar tissue in his lungs. Mrs. Calhoun said they've seen him "go downhill" since then. But talking about his trip, Shaun's spirits were high.
"Sometimes, I feel like I want to give up, because I'm so tired of it all, but I can't," he said. "And I can't wait to go to the aquarium. I hear they got a new shark, too, so I can't wait."