Blow out the candles and make a wish, and that is just what Shelby Huff did last week as she celebrated three years of life since she received a bone marrow transplant in Minneapolis. A previous wish came true for the Hill City girl in early October when the Make-A-Wish Foundation held true to its name and provided an experience that was a dream-come-true for the Hill City girl.
“The Make-A-Wish Foundation requirements for this are that you have a life-threatening illness and you are under 18 years of age,” said Huff.
Four years ago Huff was diagnosed with Very Severe Aplastic Anemia, a disease in which the bone marrow does not make the number of red and white blood cells and platelets the body needs. When blood tests showed that she was in grave danger, Dr. Terry Graber arranged for her to be flown immediately to Sioux Falls where she underwent a treatment to potentially reboot her immune system.
When that did not produce the desired results, Shelby went on to the University of Minnesota Hospital where she eventually received a bone marrow transplant. Though the procedure was life giving, the temporary side effects included Von Willebrand disease, a bleeding disorder, and cancer. Shelby, who was extremely sick, was flown to New York where she received experimental treatments for the cancer. This brought about healing.
The two-year ordeal certainly qualified her for the Make-A-Wish offer for a trip. Since she has always loved sheep and wanted desperately to see a kiwi bird, New Zealand appeared to be the perfect wish at the time she was released from the hospital. However, the more she thought about it, the more uneasy she became.
“She couldn’t quite feel comfortable with the idea of being in a plane that would be refueling in the air and there had also been some terrorist activity during that time,” said Linda Brown, Shelby’s grandmother.
She and Huff began to research places that also involved sheep and fishing, something she liked to do with her grandfather, Sam Brown. When they came across the Trailing of the Sheep Festival in Ketchum, Haley and Sun Valley, Idaho, their search was over. Festival ads boasted myriad sheep-related activities, but the main event was a parade of hundreds of sheep descending from the mountains to their winter pasture. The Make-A-Wish Foundation went to work to put together the trip.
It was a family affair, as Huff, her mother Jennyfer Holsapple, her sister Avalon, Sam and Linda and another grandmother, Judy Huff, flew into the Boise airport on Wednesday, Oct. 5, where they were met by a large crowd of people, including many college students, with signs and shouts of welcome.
“We were also greeted by Basque dancers who even pulled Shelby into one of their dances. She was interviewed in Boise and this later appeared on the news. From the airport, we were driven via limousine to our motel for the night,” said Linda.
On Thursday, they drove to Ketchum and were provided with a three-bedroom condominium for the duration of the stay in the area.
“I couldn’t believe the beautiful condo they provided for us and everyone was so friendly and generous and kind,” said Shelby.
That same day they were welcomed to the festival and interviewed again by the local media. Later in the afternoon, Shelby, Avalon and Linda were scheduled to take a knitting class, learning to make Sawtooth Mountain scarves. The jagged edge of the scarves depicts the Sawtooth Mountains that surround the area.
Friday, Shelby, Avalon, Sam, Jennyfer and Judy were treated to a fly-fishing excursion with Silver Creek Outfitters. They took the group, including Linda, who was there to take pictures, to a scenic pond that was reserved for special people. Before fishing, the guides taught the family group all about fly-fishing.
“It was amazing. We each caught about 12 fish, and they were two to 12 pounds each. They were brookies and rainbow trout, and it was catch and release,” said Shelby.
Saturday, Oct. 8 was labeled as Shelby’s Wish Day. In the morning she and her family received VIP entry into the Sheepdog Trials. Shelby and Avalon even had the opportunity to participate in one of the trials. It was as a result of this event that Shelby received a very special gift.
“One of the sheepherders had a dog that he had planned to retire after the sheepdog trials. He also had a beautiful handmade staff with a compressed horn handle that he wanted to retire at the same time. That day, with tears in his eyes, he presented his well-worn staff to Shelby,” said Sam.
So many in the town were eager to meet Shelby and give her individual gifts. A woman who owned a particularly interesting festival booth had with her a wheelchair-bound son who required care for all of his needs. She said one day God told her, “I want you to be more like him,” meaning to allow God to be the supplier of all her needs, as she supplied the needs of her son.
She showered Shelby with gifts of felted soap and T-shirts and other items. Later in the day, the owner of Pendleton gave Shelby one of their unique wool blankets. Linda said it brought tears to her eyes to see the generosity of so many people.
That same day, Shelby was escorted to a festival stage and the Lt. Gov. Brad Little of Idaho read a proclamation written by him and Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, honoring the Hill City girl by proclaiming Oct. 8, 2016 as Shelby Huff Day in Idaho. It was a big deal for Shelby to make this festival a Make-A-Wish destination, and some individuals told the family that it has provided a boost to tourism in the area.
On Sunday, the day of the Trailing of the Sheep parade, Shelby and family had the privilege of being on the mountain with the sheep and sheepherders, prior to the parade, and during the parade, the family had VIP seats near the announcer. While watching the parade they heard shouts of “Shelby, Shelby!” and soon discovered it was a group of local Girl Scouts. They wrote notes to Shelby and made a fluffy white sheep especially for her. It is something she will cherish.
After a picnic, the family was treated to another highlight of the trip. Sun Valley Outfitters took them on a guided horseback ride in the Wood River Valley and surrounding area.
Linda said people involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation are a big-hearted group of people who provided an opportunity for their family to be together without the stress of the illness they had previously endured. She went on to say that Make-A-Wish is absolutely focused on giving an exceptional experience to children going through the throes of a life-threatening illness, or have gone through it. That “exceptional experience” was certainly the case for Shelby.
“The love of God was present everywhere throughout the whole trip. The beauty of the weather and colorful scenery showed the love of God. My family and I are so grateful for the wonderful experience,” said Shelby.