17-year-old Maddi recently visited Clearwater Marine Aquarium to meet her inspirational heroes, Winter and Hope. She was born with a genetic disease called cystic fibrosis (CF). This disease primarily affects the lungs and the pancreas. There is no cure for CF yet, and it is progressive. Because of this, Maddi usually goes to the hospital 3-4 times a year for a “tune-up” just to stay as healthy as possible. Despite her condition, she is still strong and driven to help others.
“When you see the Dolphin Tale movies, you can’t help but just feel something. I just had to go visit this dolphin. It’s kind of amazing, but the prosthetic company I work with happens to be the same prosthetic company that helped Winter. When we went (to the aquarium), it was just the most amazing thing ever!” – Lisa Sellan
Meet Milo Hill of St Petersburg, Florida, a 5-year-old boy with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Milo was diagnosed when he was 3 years old and has been in steady treatment for two years. He has chemo every night at home, receives IV chemo once a month at the hospital and every 90 days has a spinal tap.
Cassidy-Rae was born 10 weeks early and was in the NICU for 51 days. She is now 7 years old. She has spastic quadriplegia, severe hearing loss, a g-tube and developmental disabilities. She cannot say very many things and has high blood pressure.
“Whenever we see Dolphin Tale, she gets so excited. Cassidy-Rae relates to Winter because she is in a wheelchair and has several pieces of special equipment. Every time she watches the movie, she makes all kinds of sounds, which is just music to our ears. I think she just has a bond with (Hope and Winter).” – Cassidy-Rae’s Mom
After moving to Clearwater, Maja began coming to Clearwater Marine Aquarium and started following the story of Winter, the dolphin without a tail. She began to feel Winter was the animal version of herself. Both had traumatic injuries, lost part of themselves and had prosthetics. Beyond that, from the time Maja was five years old, she had dreamed of seeing a dolphin in person.
Despite facing adversity, Lorie Sparks is inspired by Winter to do amazing things — like finishing college and competing in wheelchair ballroom dance competitions!
Meet Claudia Dopico, a 13-year-old girl suffering from Apert Syndrome.
Claudia was struggling after she had undergone toe separation surgery. Then she heard about Dolphin Tale, saw the movie and she says it changed her life. She was inspired to fight on. Winter has helped her get through the pain and doesn’t let Apert Syndrome stop her. She can now ride her bike, run, hike and go horseback riding. She even wants to become a marine mammal trainer!