Ready with a grass hula skirt and a bright flowery lei, Make-A-Wish Connecticut volunteers Rita Refkofsky and Nancy Ross stood waiting for 15-year-old Chloe Martins to arrive at Long Horn Steakhouse in Shelton Saturday to surprise her — with a vacation to Hawaii.
Martins, a varsity cheerleader at Seymour High School, is living with Common Variable Immune Deficiency (CVID). She said she has many respiratory issues and while it can interfere with cheerleading, she finds ways to deal with it and does not allow it to hinder her.
Jennifer Lyder Cabrera, Martins’ mother, said her daughter wanted a break from “medical appointments, needles, pills, and everything else,” to instead ride a horse on the beach and go snorkeling with sea turtles.
“If my husband and I get to see her do all of this, we are content with life,” she said.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, CVID weakens the immune system, causing those with the disease to be vulnerable to infections and sometimes viruses. They can also suffer from persistent infections in the lungs, sinuses and ears.
Martins said she was shocked to learn she was granted her wish. Since she had not heard from the Make-A-Wish Foundation for a couple months, so she thought she may not get her dream vacation.
Martins said she chose Hawaii for its beautiful beaches, water, and fish. She said going to the beach is one of her favorite things to do, as she loves to tan and relax. The trip is scheduled for March.
She was diagnosed with CVID when she was 18 months old and had to get frequent infusions since she was 2, said Lyder Cabrera.
“Chloe is my hero, every breath she takes, every step she makes. She is a varsity cheerleader, she is a high honor roll student, never skips a beat,” Lyder Cabrera said. “She has been through more in her 15 years of life than an average human would ever be through — with all her surgeries and her doctor appointments. She never lets it get to her, she always has a smile on her face.”
Martins’ stepfather, Edison Cabrera, said that aside from Martins’ compassion, she has always been active and fearless.
“She’s the one who has never been afraid to go outside, scraping her knees or trying to climb trees or breaking a leg,” he said. “She has never been afraid of anything.”
Samantha Massie, 14, said she has been friends with Martins for about seven years. She described her friend as supportive and bold.
Massie said she and Martins often dreamed about vacations they would go on together. When she learned about the Hawaii trip before the new year, she knew her friend was going to be excited and that she deserved a getaway.
“She is one of the strongest people you will ever meet, honestly,” Massie said. “There’s so many doctor’s appointments she goes to and seeing her after, she’s always smiling.”
Martins now receives infusions every two weeks at the Harford Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and is treated by infectious disease specialist, Dr. Nicholas Bennett, who submitted the request to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Bennet said CVID can cause infections and many who have it need infusions to boost their immune system.
Bennet said Martins is “stoic” in how she manages her CVID and that she deserves a getaway.
“I think she puts up with a lot and she’s continued as much as she can with a smile on her face,” said Bennet. “She needs a break from all of that.”
Bennet added awareness for CVID is also necessary, as proper diagnosis and treatment of the disease can significantly improve a child’s quality of life.
Ross said the Make-A-Wish Foundation started working on Martins’ wish two months ago.
Once volunteers received her wish and it was accepted, they began planning her a surprise party, complete with vibrant tropical decorations, at her favorite restaurant, which donated the cost of the party.
Ross and Refkofsky said they are privileged to grant children wishes and bring them happiness, even if it means witnessing their struggles.
“If we can bring a smile to one child’s face, it is just amazing to us to be able to do that,” Refkofsky said. “We see some sad situations, with what children have to deal with, but mostly it has been very joyful. We really are very fortunate.”