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PUNXSUTAWNEY â€“ Ever since Emily Keth, 16, of Punxsy, was a little girl, she has been obsessed with dolphins. She would decorate her with room with pictures of the creatures and dreamed of one day being able to swim with them.
Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, that dream came true.
In April 2011, doctors found three blood clots in Emily's brain, which caused her to lose 83 percent of her vision. Soon after, she was diagnosed with Factor V Leiden, a blood-clotting disorder that will affect her for the rest of her life.
After her diagnosis and work with her doctors in Pittsburgh, Make-A-Wish received Emily's name and wish.
However, Emily could not travel right away, as she had to undergo a series of shots. When the consensus was that she was stable enough to travel, she and her family made their plans for Florida.
Emily had the choice of either a cruise or swimming with dolphins, an easy decision.
Emily, her mother, Teresa Keth, and grandmother, Marian Smith, departed Nov. 12 from Pittsburgh International Airport â€“ Emily's first time traveling via plane â€“ for Orlando, Fla.
They stayed at the Liki Tiki Village, in Winter Gardens, Fla., where Emily enjoyed the resort and its various water attractions, especially the hot tub.
The family's trip began by exploring Discovery Cove, where guests can swim with dolphins and snorkel through tropical reefs and ship wrecks.
Emily swam with and rode on the backs of various dolphins, the highlight of her trip. She also explored a rain forest area and saw numerous exotic birds.
"One actually flew out on her arm, and she got to feed it out of a cup,â€ť her grandmother said.
The family then visited Sea World, where their guided tour took them to all the different shows and sea creatures that the park has to offer.
"We had our own, like, VIP tour,â€ť Emily's mother said.
They also received a behind-the-scenes look at Sea World, including its rescue animals at the park and the world-famous Shamu. Later that day, Emily fed stingrays and touched their backs and visited more dolphins.
After visiting Downtown Disney and seeing friends in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the family's last stop on the five-day trip was Disney's Hollywood Studios, which Emily chose over Animal Kingdom.
"We want to thank Make-a-Wish for making that possible, she probably wouldn't have gotten to go there if it wasn't for them,â€ť Marian Smith said.
CAMPAIGN KICK OFF
The Punxsutawney office of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Greater Pennsylvania and Southern West Virginia kicks off its annual â€śLight Up a Childâ€™s Lifeâ€ť campaign at 7 a.m. this morning at Ragleyâ€™s True Value Hardware, North Findley Street. WPXZâ€™s live broadcast will then move to the Pantall Hotel from 1 to 4 p.m.
To donate to the â€śLight Up a Childâ€™s Lifeâ€ť campaign, call 938-8888.