Wish granted: 7-year-old splashes with dolphins
July 11, 2010 03:42:23 PM
Andrew Gant / News Herald Writer
PANAMA CITY BEACH — Dustin Harrell seemed a little unsure at first about climbing into the tank, his life jacket snug up near his ears.
Then he watched Ivan, one of Gulf World’s rescued rough-toothed dolphins, leap out of the deep end and spin into the air on command, crashing back into the water with an impressive splash.
“Looks like a tornado to me,” the 7-year-old said, amazed.
Dustin was at Gulf World thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes for children with serious medical conditions.
He has Type 1 ostetogenesis imperfecta, also known as Brittle Bone Disease, a condition that has caused him nine broken bones in his seven years.
“It kind of just set me back. I just couldn’t believe I missed it,” Dustin’s mother, Tammy Harrell, said of his diagnosis at age 4. Harrell, a registered nurse, thought she or someone else who treated Dustin as a toddler should have recognized the condition earlier.
Dustin had his first broken bone when he was 18 months old, a break in his left arm.
Just last year, he was dancing with his air guitar in front of the TV when he broke his tibia.
Harrell said Dustin also has suffered from tracheomalacia, a softening of throat tissue and cartilage.
Back home in Liberty, Miss., Dustin has a horse, Cricket, he enters in shows and sometimes rides bareback. But his mother said he craves some of the games other boys his age play — especially football, which requires more contact than is safe for him.
The dolphin trip was Dustin’s choice for Make-A-Wish (“it was either that, or he wanted to meet Rascal Flatts,” his mother said) and he came out of the tank Sunday delighted with what he experienced.
Dustin’s mother and grandparents, Jerry and Roxie Perkins of Clinton, La., were in the stands watching as he splashed with Ivan and another dolphin, a Bottlenose named Indy. A trainer had them performing an array of tricks — singing out of their blowholes, pulling children through the pool and popping out of the water to wave goodbye with both flippers.
Dustin said the trip here has been fun, and his new wish is to come back to ride a horse on the beach.
Asked if he’d be ready to leave Panama City Beach and get back home, he paused for a moment.
“I’ve been thinking about it,” he said, “but I really don’t want to.”