Wish for Disney World granted for Prince Albert child

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald (L to R) Mike McKee, Harlynn McKee, Pyper McKee, Tatum McKee and Shauna McKee pose with Tatum's countdown sign after his Wish Reveal at Ecole St. Anne School on Tuesday afternoon.

There was a huge surprise for a student in the Kindergarten classroom at Ecole St. Anne School in Prince Albert on Tuesday afternoon.

Tatum McKee, a 5-year-old from Prince Albert with a rare condition, will travel to Disney World later this month with his family thanks to Make-A-Wish. Tatum’s mother, Shauna McKee, said the family was grateful to hear he would get his wish after a difficult last few years.

“Tatum is obsessed with trains and his wish was to go somewhere where he could ride all of the trains,” she explained. “He saw some pictures of trains at Disney World and he had his mind set that that was where he wanted to go. He is also a thrill seeker so I’m sure he’ll enjoy the rides.”

Tatum was surprised after afternoon recess by Make-A-Wish representatives, his mother, father Mike, sisters Pyper and Harlynn, grandparents and representatives from the Prince Albert Optimist Club who made the wish possible.

His family members revealed the wish by spelling out the word Disney with letters, representing his wish to go to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. He then received a countdown calendar with nine days on it, which serves as a reminder for when the family leaves.

The family initially applied to Make-A-Wish when Tatum was three-years-old, but the COVID-19 pandemic put any thoughts on international travel on hold. Shauna said it all worked out for the best.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Family members and representatives from the Prince Albert Optimist Club revealed the letters spelling Disney to Tatum McKee for his Wish Reveal at Ecole St. Anne School on Tuesday afternoon.

“At age three, (you’re) too young for Disney World anyway, so the timing is perfect,” she said. “We are grateful, Tatum has been through a lot and to see him actually have something fun and exciting at the end of his journey, well at this point of his journey is exciting.”

Tatum was born with Biliary Atresia, a condition where tubes that connect the liver to the gallbladder do not develop normally. The condition affects only one in every 10,000 to 20,000 infants, according to the Canadian Liver Foundation. Researchers do not know what causes it.

Tatum was diagnosed at seven-and-a-half months and underwent his first surgery shortly afterwards.

“He went on to need a liver transplant, which was done in May of 2019,” Shauna said. “He is post liver transplant at the age of five.”

Children with Biliary Atresia are born healthy before bile ducts scar over and that leads to the bile being trapped in the liver.

“His body wasn’t able to rid the bile, so Tatum was going quite yellow, quite jaundice,” she explained. “In that first surgery, they took a piece of his bowel and attached it to his liver, allowing the bile to drain that way.

Michael Oleksyn/Daily Herald Tatum McKee opened his gifts from Make-A-Wish during his Wish Reveal at Ecole St. Anne School on Tuesday afternoon.

“Tatum had numerous hospitalizations for what they thought was an infection from the bile but actually post-transplant, after seeing the liver, he had bile leaks which was holes in the liver from the bile.”

Since the surgery, Tatum has recovered 100 per cent.

“There is always risk post-transplant,” she said. “There is a cancer risk, there are rejection risks. Luckily with Tatum we haven’t had any of those. Other than taking a daily multivitamin, which all my kids do, and an anti-rejection drug, he’s a normal little guy,”

The whole family will be travelling in nine days to Disney World. That include’s Tatum’s sisters, seven year-old Pyper and three-year-old Harlynn, who celebrated right along with him. Shauna said having the whole family go on the trip makes it even more special.

“As much as I say Tatum has been through a lot, we have all been through it,” she explained. “It affected me, my husband, the girls—probably the most on my oldest daughter who was three, almost four, at the time of the transplant, who remembers and who got hauled out of her normal life to something very traumatic.

“It was traumatic for her seeing her brother go through some of the things she saw. Some of the procedures, she had to see certain things, so, I think it was probably the toughest on her. To see us all get rewarded with this is just absolutely heartwarming.”

Shauna said she was excited to see her children excited. She visited Disneyland as a little girl, and had a great experience. She hopes it will be the same for her children.

“I can remember the magic of it, so I am super excited for all of the kids just to go,” she said. “It will be all decorated for Christmas and it will be an absolutely fantastic da.”

Allyson Toye, the Chapter Director for Make-a-Wish Canada—Saskatchewan Region, said the Wish was possible because of the Prince Albert Optimist Club Gala, which took place October 1 at the Prince Albert Exhibition. Toye lived in Prince Albert for seven years and was a member of the Optimist Club. She said that positive relationship has continued.

“We came to them in March and asked them if they wanted to partner on a fundraiser or an event, the Optimist Club voted on it and they decided to partner with us for the last Fall Gala,” Toye said.

The average wish costs $10,000. There are currently 18 children waiting for wishes in Prince Albert proper and seven in the surrounding area. The $75,000 raised by the Optimist Club will make roughly eight wishes come true for local children.

“We are currently granting Tatum’s (wish), and my wish coordinator, Naisa, is working on four other wishes from the Prince Albert Optimist Gala,” she said.

Vince Parker, Treasurer of the Optimist Club of Prince Albert, said they decided to partner with Make-A-Wish because the proceeds from the Gala have always gone to local families with complex needs.

“We always try to make sure that whatever money is raised in Prince Albert stays in Prince Albert, as a local organization, so that’s what we did and (this year) it was (with) Make A Wish Canada,” Parker explained. “Whether it will be in future we don’t really know yet.”

The Gala itself was the most successful of the six that the Optimist Club have had.

“We were really surprised as organizers when I tallied it all at the end of the day,” Parker said.

Toye said that granting wishes never gets old for her team,

“Seeing the kids smile is great,” she said. “Tatum, of course, was a little shy and then he realized (what was happening). Seeing those kids at the airport the morning they are taking off is one of the most magical things.

“Naisa and myself work long hard hours, we have 12 events in 24 days with Make a Wish for the month of December. It is special. We work long hard hours and seeing Tatum’s reactions make it all worth it and no wishes are ever the same.”

Parker has been to two other wishes as a carpenter who built a Nintendo Switch entertainment stand for a wish in Moosomin and a mansion pirate ship for a wish in Biggar. Like Toye, he said he loves seeing the family’s reaction.

“Let’s face it, it affects the whole family,” he said. “The parents are just as enthused and enthusiastic about it in most cases as the kids are.”

Tatum received a gift of various items from Make-A-Wish as well. They also served his favourite foods and drink to his class after the presentation.

The McKee’s now begin their nine day countdown and return in time for Christmas Eve.

“We are not ready. We are nowhere near ready, but I can make that happen,” Shauna said,

“We leave and we are gone for I think eight days in total. Christmas Eve, you bet and host too. We have got lots of help my mother in law and my mom both are going to take care of everything on this end and we are just going to simply open the doors so we can dream.”

According to Toye, there are currently 231 children waiting for wishes in the province.