It was the chance for one princess to meet another.
Cinderella is known throughout the world as the kind, beautiful princess of the Disney empire. Ja’Kiera Caston holds the same title in her close-knit Jackson family.
She’s 3 years old and despite a life-threatening illness enjoys watching videos of her favorite character and playing the part of princess, said her mother, Temeka Caston.
Ja’Kiera and her family recently were given an expense-paid, five-day trip to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Fla., from the Kid’s Wish Network, a national children’s charity.
“She is our little princess, so it was such a special treat when she got to go to Disney to actually meet one,” said Temeka Caston, referring to the family’s 2009 visit to the Florida resort, a once-in-a-lifetime trip awarded by national children’s charity, Kid’s Wish Network.
Leaving hospitals and medications behind, Ja’Kiera traveled with her mother, older brother, Ja-Shun Brown, 5, and her father, J.B. Brown.
Caston said the trip was a much-needed diversion from the everyday trials of Ja’Kiera’s illness.
Urea Cycle Defect is a confusing phrase for adults to understand, let alone a child.
Ja’Kiera was diagnosed at birth with the disorder, which stems from an enzyme deficiency that leads to high amounts of toxic ammonia building up in the blood.
JaKiera’s body cannot break down high-protein foods, and she must take a special formula.
In 2007, Ja’Kiera was hospitalized and underwent a liver transplant at Children’s Hospital at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
A few months after the surgery, her body began rejecting her new liver, and she was put on seven different anti-rejection medications. Despite improvements, she continues to have a low immune system and must have her blood drawn every month.
“Living with this is hard for her and the entire family,” said Caston. “So when we heard about the possibility of the trip, we were excited. Somehow, everything just came about and we were on a plane to Disney World. I still don’t even really know how it happened.”
It began with a suggestion from Ja’Kiera’s social worker at Children’s Hospital. She called the nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children with life-threatening illnesses to tell them about Ja’Kiera and the struggles the family had undergone since her birth.
A representative called Temeka Caston to see if she would like to have a wish granted.
“I never dreamed we would have this opportunity,” Temeka Caston said. “It was really nice that the social worker thought about Ja’Kiera and followed through to make sure she got her wish.”
The next step was informing Ja’Kiera about the possibility of a wish being granted and getting her input on her No. 1 desire. When asked, she quickly replied, “Disney World!”
Caston said from that moment, things began to quickly transpire, including plans for the family’s first plane ride.
Both children were “very, very excited,” their mother said.
They were eager to fly, and for the opportunity to see their favorite Disney characters, including Cinderella and Mickey Mouse. Their enthusiasm put their parents in the spirit for a family vacation they will never forget, she said.
While in Florida, the family visited Walt Disney World, SeaWorld and Universal Studios. Older brother Ja-Shun realized having Ja’Kiera along proved to be an advantage, their mother said.
“He was proud of the attention she got and realized the trip was for her benefit,” said Caston. “He enjoyed himself but was even happier that she had a good time. Even at his age, he is sympathetic to what she goes through.”
While the rides, parades and shows at the various parks were Ja-Shun’s favorite parts of the trip, Ja’Kiera liked seeing the Disney characters “up close” best.
The adults enjoyed staying at the Royal Plaza Hotel, which provided wonderful amenities that made them feel “extra special,” she said.
“From the time we got there until the time we left, we felt like special guests,” said Caston. “It was a wonderful trip that none of us, especially Ja’Kiera, will ever forget.”
And Ja’Kiera’s mother is confident that with the continued help of her regular physicians at University Mississippi Medical Center and with the medical advances being made, Ja’Kiera will have a full life.
“I’m very thankful for the treatment Ja’Kiera has gotten both here and in Birmingham,” said Caston. “She has had wonderful care from all of the doctors.
“This trip really lifted her spirits, so I also consider it to be good medicine.”