Our fifth day, Wednesday morning we set out in our little rental car, oxygen and wheelchair in tow…to take Mailia to see the animals and fish at the Clearwater Florida Marine Aquarium. She was so very excited to finally get to meet the star of the movie we had long heard about, Winter…of “Dolphin Tale” and to learn more about Winter and her story.
We had just taken Mailia to see this movie the other day…and had time to go onto the Clearwater Aquarium’s web site where we found so much information and a listing of different activities she could participate in.
We made our reservations on-line that morning, got our entry tickets and also, a chance for Mailia to have a Dolphin encounter. So many incredible things happen from children and adults, communicating, touching and connecting with these incredible animals or so we have read, can happen. I figured why not. The movie had such a spiritual and heartfelt impact on Mailia and she has such a passion and love for animals both virtually and in the wild.
Our trip took a little over two hours and we found the Aquarium thanks in part to Google Maps and directions and Max’s wonderful driving and my co-piloting skills or backseat driver as Max fondly refers to me. I will still say…Florida drivers who are not snow birds will definitely getcha if you do not keep up flying down the interstate.
We parked…got our belongings and necessities and Mailia’s wheelchair and headed in for our adventure. No sooner we get in through the gate, a wonderful volunteer approached Mailia to show her a real copy of the prosthetic tail, complete with the entire mechanism and sleeve as soft and subtle as silicone gel. This really complemented the movie…for it was this same device that was finally used and not rejected by Winter…in order to have and maintain her physical therapy.
We then stopped to visit the first exhibit containing two sister nurse sharks named Thelma and Louise, and many other fish and rays in their watery world. Then it was off to find Winter, where we found her swimming alone without her prosthetic tail in a very large tank that you could see from below…or up above the surface.
Moving through this incredible maze, Mailia also got to see many sea turtles and river otters that were permanent residents of this working hospital and rehab center.
As we wheeled her around, we came to an outdoor tank that houses one of the newest additions to the center, a young juvenile dolphin by the name of Hope. We captured a couple of photos with her story which was so heart wrenching.
Then it was a male dolphin that attracted our attention, the amazing Nicholas captured in a video we will try to post here later.
After this exhibit, it was Mailia’s turn to have her dolphin encounter…with a female dolphin by the name of “Panama”…a roommate to Winter. I positioned myself across the tank enclosure so to capture photos of Mailia…all the while holding my breath and praying she would be okay…walking out on a narrow platform, with her oxygen concentrator. She cleaned her hands with hand sanitizer and away she went…smiling ever so brightly.
Max stayed close to her…and let the trainers know we were there should the need arise. Nope…these incredible dolphins knew the drill. This dolphin Panama…was actually deaf…and could not hear. Only hand signals…but I still wonder if she could sense Mailia’s fragility as she was intent on making a connection with her and the little boy next to Mailia.
Mailia showed such enthusiasm and excitement the entire time…she listened to the trainer’s instructions…asked questions and participated giving hand signals and commands to Panama…and rewarding her with treats of fish. In trying to describe this dolphins healing presence, for Mailia…this was such an incredible energetic exchange that we witnessed. Panama’s energy caused Mailia to come away so emotionally lifted and happy. I have read where dolphins can be biologically drawn to imbalances they sense in the human body and are innately driven to “fix” us. Are they kindred souls, as some have described, joining in the healing ritual through an altruistic desire “to help”…or are they both? I think the truth of the matter is…only the dolphin knows.
What I will say…is something very special happened to Mailia that day. She came away from this experience totally changed on a cellular level. We were anxious to see, how her upcoming stem cell transplant would play out after this. Not if, but when we get back to Florida for her next procedure, I think Max and I will do whatever it takes, to get Mailia into another dolphin encounter prior to her next procedure. All she could say was…wow…this is the most incredible thing I have ever felt or experienced. Thank you mom and dad…thank you!...
See the movie…be touched by the story. And don’t be afraid to dream and act on what is possible. And if you are ever in Florida...go visit these incredibly loving dolphins who are cared for by the wonderful and inspiring staff and volunteers at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
Love, our gratitude and blessings…