Winter’s story has inspired millions of people all over the world! Every day at Clearwater Marine Aquarium we welcome many visitors who have a powerful connection to Winter, Hope and many of the other rescued animals at CMA. These remarkable individuals bring their own inspiring stories and share how these special animals have changed their lives.

Anni Emmert

CEO David Yates was contacted by Albert Manero, the young leader of Limbitless Solutions, a group of University of Central Florida (UCF) engineering students that were shaking the world of prosthetics by making arms and legs for kids with 3-D printing at a nominal cost. Yates had known Albert and his family for a number of years. Albert and his young team made a prosthetic arm for Annika “Anni” Emmert, who arrived in Florida from California expecting to pick up her 3-D printed arm at UCF, but did not know the students had engineered an extra-special delivery. The ten-year-old (at that time, now 13) was born without her right hand and part of her arm. Anni thought she and her family were simply visiting and spending the day at Clearwater Marine Aquarium prior to picking her arm up at UCF the next day. Anni’s trip to see Winter came with a couple surprises, as actress Cozi Zuehlsdorff, who starred in the Dolphin Tale movies was there to greet her. Then, during a VIP poolside visit with Winter, Anni opened the cooler she thought was filled with fish for Winter, and found that it actually had her new robotic arm, bringing her to tears.

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Eric Piburn

Eric Piburn was born with a very complex Cardio-Pulmonary defect called Tetrology of Fallot with Pulmonary Atresia and has now had five heart surgeries. In spite of all of this, Eric has maintained a positive and joyful attitude. You can’t help but smile while watching Eric meet Hope!

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Stephanie Evans

Can a dolphin save a life? Just ask Stephanie Evans. Stephanie is twenty-one years old and has a major genetic disorder that causes many problems, including serious liver and kidney damage, putting her on the national organ transplant list. Four years ago, while vacationing with her mom and sister, waiting for the transplant call, they happened upon Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Little did they know that stop would change Stephanie’s life.

Stephanie connected to Winter’s overcoming survival story in a life-changing way. Stephanie’s kidney problem required she drink a large amount of water, which she refused to do. She also did not want to eat much. Stephanie saw how Winter lived a normal life while being different and having endured many medical procedures herself. Even the Dolphin Tale actors got behind encouraging Stephanie to eat and drink more. The result? Stephanie’s mom would bring her to CMA every few months because she ate and drank better after a visit with Winter. Winter was essentially helping Stephanie stay alive as she waited for the transplant, which finally happened in fall 2016. Stephanie is in recovery today and still stays in touch with David Yates daily via text.

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Maddi Bertrand

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.

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Bernadette Scarduzio

Bernadette Scarduzio was born with the most common inherited disease that no one has ever heard of: Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT) syndrome. CMT is the number one hereditary neuropathy in the world, affecting 1 in 2,500 people or nearly 2.6 million worldwide.

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Braedon Monthony

Braedon Monthony from New York is a dual, below-knee amputee who lost his legs due to a viral infection shortly after he was born.  Now seven years old, Braedon deeply identifies with Winter’s tale of triumph, stating, “She’s just like me!”

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Caroline Kole

Singer. Songwriter. Floridian. Dolphin fan. Caroline Kole grew up near Clearwater Marine Aquarium and has seen it blossom into the facility it is today — and it’s had a major impact on her life.

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Lisa Sellan

“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

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Milo Hill

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.

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Claire Logue

The story of Winter and Hope inspired 11-year-old Claire so much that she decided to donate money to CMA to help animals in need.

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Cassidy-Rae Luebbering

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

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Maja Kazazic

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.

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Lorie Sparks

Despite facing adversity, Lorie Sparks is inspired by Winter to do amazing things — like finishing college and competing in wheelchair ballroom dance competitions!

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Claudia Dopico

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!

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