KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — More dreams are coming true for East Tennessee families with sick kids. After two years of a pandemic, the Make-A-Wish needs funds now more than ever.
Natalie Kuykendall is proof of what staying patient for a dream to come true can do.
The 8-year-old's room is one fit for a princess, with the sparkles, dresses, and jewels to prove it. Even her cat is named after the snow queen.
The second grader's royal reality stems from her strength at a young age.
She was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 2. Her parents couldn't believe it.
"It was a definite shock," her mom Mamie Kuykendall said. "She had no symptoms of cancer."
The diagnosis came after a doctor noticed Natalie's iron was low. It wasn't long before leukemia became the family's least favorite word.
Natalie went through treatment until she was about 5. She never lost her shining spirit through it all.
"She wore a princess dress every day for the whole treatment," Mamie said. "Every time we went to the hospital, she was in one. Everyone there knew that she was coming when they saw her. She was always our little princess."
It wasn't all a fairytale for the tiny toddler.
"It was scary and I felt like I couldn't make it," Natalie said.
But she did make it, with support from the hospital staff plus mom and dad.
"We just told her that she was in God's hands and that the Lord would take care of her whether that was making her better, which we hoped, or not, that she was never going to be left alone," Mamie said.
During treatment, Natalie had a dream to look forward to through it all. Though she originally wanted to go on a Disney Cruise, the pandemic postponed that.
Make-A-Wish East Tennessee treated Natalie to a shopping spree.
"They've had so many bad days and so many sick days, and this was a day where she just felt great," Mamie said. "She felt really special and just treated like a princess."
Natalie got a bed and desk from Rooms to Go, jewelry from Kay's and tons of toys from Target.
"During her Make-A-Wish, she spent a good amount of her money to buy her sister gifts," Mamie said. "She's always trying to make someone else's day better."
Natalie isn't the only sick child who has benefitted from Make-A-Wish either. There are hundreds whose dreams come true every day.
"Every child, they really do tailor to, they put in the time and the effort and the money to make sure that child is cared for in a way that is tailored for them," Mamie said.
Since the pandemic did put many wishes on hold, the nonprofit needs more donations to keep the special days alive.
"I would tell people to donate to Make-A-Wish because their goal is the children," Mamie said.
After it all, Natalie will still have her personal princess palace, and she hopes others can experience the joy she did on her shopping spree.
"You just have to stay strong and you have to believe," Natalie said.
If you would like to donate to Make-A-Wish East Tennessee, you can choose to make a one-time or monthly donation of any amount by clicking this link.